Texas Dems may have infected Pelosi and Harris aides, dimming prospects for Biden meeting

Texas State Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-146) (left) takes a photo with Hala Ayala, Democratic nominee for Virginia lieutenant governor, as they visit the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library, the site of the 1939 Alexandria Library sit-in, where five Black men were arrested for attempting to register for a library card, on July 16, 2021 in Alexandria, Virginia. Members of Texas House Democratic Caucus continue to lobby for voting rights reform in Washington, DC after leaving Texas to block a voting restrictions bill by denying a Republican quorum. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/TNS)
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Todd J. Gillman The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Texas Democrats who fled Austin have spent the last eight nights at a hotel a half-mile from the White House, and they’re growing a bit impatient for an invitation to meet with President Joe Biden.

“We know the president is watching and we’re waiting for him to call,” said state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio. “We are willing and ready to meet with him whenever he would like that.”

But that possibility grew even more remote Tuesday after a revelation, first reported by Axios, that aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris have tested positive for COVID-19 since their bosses met with the runaway legislators, six of whom had likewise tested positive since Friday.

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The Pelosi staffer ushered the Texans around the Capitol last week, Axios reported.

Everyone stricken so far – the six lawmakers and the aides to Pelosi and Harris – was fully vaccinated. That should confer protection against any serious illness, and mute the potential for contagion.

“We’re still working diligently through the COVID protocols that we’ve already set in place,” said state Rep. Ron Reynolds, referring to daily tests for lawmakers and aides since Saturday, when the first three tested positive.

But the White House takes the health of the 78-year-old president very seriously.

Rapid tests are mandatory for journalists who enter the Oval Office or other meeting rooms with him or Harris. Until June 7, testing was required for anyone entering the White House complex, whether they might be in proximity to the president or not.

That requirement has since been lifted for people who are fully vaccinated.

But White House protocols still aim to keep out anyone recently exposed. And the 55 Texas Democrats have become potential vectors since fleeing Austin. Republicans point to photos of them aboard a flight to Washington, none wearing a mask – technically allowed because it was a chartered flight, but a violation of CDC guidelines.

The Democrats fled to break quorum in the Texas House, halting an elections bill demanded by Gov. Greg Abbott that they view as voter suppression.

“Of course we would love to visit with the president,” Minjarez told reporters. “We had the opportunity to meet with the Vice President, and we have made our concerns known, the sense of urgency involved.”

MSNBC devoted an hour on Monday night to the fugitives. In deference to the outbreak, they appeared remotely rather than in-studio as planned.

“Even though we’re not doing as many in-person visits, we’re still having many meetings via Zoom. We’re still doing everything that we can to get our message out there,” Reynolds said. “We’re working very diligently. We’re being very creative and innovative.”

The group will meet Tuesday with U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

U.S. Rep. Al Green of Houston led a letter to Biden last week signed by all 13 Democrats in Congress asking for him to meet with the runaways from the Legislature. Reynolds noted that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, another Houston congressperson, has also been prodding the White House to set that up.

“We are optimistic that we will get a meeting with President Biden very, very soon,” Reynolds said.

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