House Democratic Whip Deb Butler
Screenshot: Rep. John Autry (Vimeo)

On Wednesday, North Carolina Republicans apparently decided they just didn’t want to bother with that whole democracy thing.

The North Carolina legislature is facing two crises right now: the lack of a budget, due to the GOP’s vociferous opposition to expanding Medicaid and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vow to veto any budget that doesn’t expand Medicaid, and an ongoing redistricting process, due to maps drawn by North Carolina Republicans being thrown out for what must be the 400th time.

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The North Carolina General Assembly was meeting on Wednesday, but Democrats claim that Republican Speaker Tim Moore indicated that there would be no votes during this morning’s session, so the chamber had fewer than a dozen Democrats in it. Republicans took advantage of this to vote to override Cooper’s recent veto of their budget in a 55—9 landslide.

Notably, if all of the Democrats had been around, they likely would have voted to sustain Cooper’s veto, as veto overrides require a three-fifths majority that the Republicans do not have.

Democrats, of course, were predictably furious about this, none more than House Democratic whip Deb Butler. Democratic Rep. John Autry captured Butler’s anger on video, as Democrats surrounded the Wilmington-area Democrat, apparently to keep her from being escorted out of the chamber by uniformed police officers.

“It is so typical of the way you conduct yourself,” Butler yelled at Moore. “If this is the way you believe democracy works, shame on you...you will answer to the people of North Carolina!” According to the News and Observer, Butler told reporters after the incident that she had been threatened with arrest.

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Moore flat-out denied that he had indicated there would be no votes taken this morning. Per the N&O, Moore and other House Republicans quickly ducked into a caucus meeting following the vote. We’ve reached out to Moore via email and will update when and if we receive a response.

Other Democrats were furious at how events had played out. In a press conference, Cooper—who had been at a 9/11 memorial event in the morning—called the vote a “deceptive, surprise override.”

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Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro-area Democrat, told Splinter that at least one Democratic member, Rep. Garland Pierce, was attending a 9/11 memorial at the time of the vote. She said that she wasn’t in attendance for the vote because Democrats were told no votes were going to be taken at the time.

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“It’s very frustrating,” Harrison told Splinter. “It erodes the trust in the institution, and the institution is built on trust.”

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, a Democrat who wasn’t in attendance for the vote, said he’d been reassured by a top Republican, Rep. David Lewis, that there wouldn’t be a vote until 1 p.m.

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That ultimately did not happen, and Cooper’s veto was overriden easily due to the lack of Democrats in the chamber.

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The vote to override Cooper’s veto now goes to the state Senate, where the Republicans hold hold 29 out of 50 seats to the Democrats’ 21. This means that if even one Democratic senator votes to override Cooper’s veto, the Republican budget will pass. Harrison said that a Democratic state senator was in Georgia for the funeral of her mother, but that the senator would fly back for the vote when it takes place. “She shouldn’t have to, but we’ve had people who’ve had to rush back for votes after cancer treatments,” Harrison said.

Asked via text if he was confident that Cooper’s veto would hold in the state Senate, Charlotte-area Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson responded: “I’m confident our members won’t flip.”

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Update, 2:20 p.m. ET: According to NC Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton, Moore and Lewis denied telling Democrats there wouldn’t be votes before 1 p.m., and claimed that the Democrats were in a caucus meeting and also that they were drawing maps for the purposes of redistricting.

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Todd Barlow, a lawyer for the House Democrats, denied that Democrats were drawing maps and that they were in a caucus meeting during the vote.

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Liberal nonprofit Stronger NC also posted a schedule Barlow sent to Democratic members dated at 8:05 p.m. ET last night, which had an entry for 8:30 a.m. as a “no vote session.”