AUSTIN, Texas — Next week, state lawmakers will be back at the Texas Capitol for another special session. But it comes amid mounting pressure on House Speaker Dade Phelan following the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

What You Need To Know

  • State lawmakers will return for a special session next week amid pressure on House Speaker Dade Phelan

  • Many are calling on Phelan to resign from his position following Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial

  • Texas Republicans argue he should no longer be Speaker because he voted for the impeachment of Paxton
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wrote online that Phelan is "unworthy of his leadership position"

Paxton was acquitted on all articles against him. He’s calling for Phelan to step down from his job following what he called a “sham” impeachment led by the House. Joining the call is former President Donald Trump and several far-right GOP lawmakers. 

The Texas Republican Party isn’t being shy about its feelings either. The party recently passed a resolution calling on Phelan to step down. They argue he should no longer be Speaker because he voted for the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, he appointed Democrats to chair legislative committees, and they say he let several GOP priority bills die during the regular session.

“This is just a continuation of the ongoing GOP civil war that has been brewing for quite some time,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “We saw a major battle during the Paxton impeachment trial, in which place the moderate wing of the party lost. And so this is just the Texas GOP, which is run by the most conservative elements within the Republican Party, continuing the retribution for the House's attempt to remove Attorney General Paxton from office.”

If Phelan doesn’t step down from his speakership position, the Texas Republican Party is calling on GOP representatives to vote to vacate the seat and choose a new speaker who will support the party’s priorities.

“I don't think it's likely, in part because it's likely the Democrats would come to his rescue,” said Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “That is, as long as he retains a critical mass of Republican support, then they can join with Democrats to keep him in the Speaker's chair. And Democrats have every incentive to do that precisely because he does give them committee chairmanships, [and] he does give them more power in the state House than you would normally expect from a minority party. And so I think, therefore, they will join with the more moderate flank of the Republican caucus to guarantee that Phelan can't be forced out.”

Phelan was elected to his speakership by Republicans and Democrats and then reelected. Most House Republicans voted along with Phelan to impeach Paxton in May, but only two Senate Republicans voted to remove him from office during his September trial. Now, the calls for Phelan’s resignation as speaker are growing louder. 

In addition to Patrick, Trump and other Republicans, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wrote online that Phelan is “unworthy of his leadership position.” Patrick leads the Senate and presided over Paxton’s impeachment trial. Phelan did not respond to a request for comment.

“His best defense is to effectively remain quiet, let the storm blow over, and then prepare yourself for the legislative session where the fireworks are going to once again start up, especially if the House, as might be expected, either blocks or substantially waters down any school choice legislation of the type that the Texas Senate would like to see passed,” Jones said. 

The upcoming special session will begin Oct. 9. That’s when Gov. Greg Abbott says he’ll call on lawmakers to pass border security legislation and a school voucher program. The program, which is a priority for Abbott and Patrick, would allow parents to use public school dollars to send their child to private school. The Texas House has repeatedly rejected vouchers, with rural Republicans joining Democrats to fight against any program that would take money away from public schools. 

“He certainly could win back some goodwill with conservatives if he were able to shepherd a school choice bill through the House, because that's going to be hard to do. That's where the flashpoints have always come,” Wilson said. “Now, the difficulty is that there's a handful of pretty conservative Republicans in the House who are opposed to school choice because they're from rural districts…So you could win back some goodwill, but there were definitely some bridges burned in the impeachment, and I don't think that Phelan will ever be popular among the conservative flank of the Republican Party in Texas. But, you know, Joe Straus never was either, and he remained speaker of the Texas House for quite some time.”

While Phelan has been Speaker, the House has advanced many conservative bills. This session, the House passed a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender children and said public schools need to remove certain explicit books from their libraries.

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