The impeachment debate in the House will happen today.
Citing Paxton’s “long-standing pattern of abuse of office and public trust,” the memo said it was imperative for the House to proceed with impeachment to prevent Paxton from using his office’s “significant powers” to further obstruct and delay justice.
The committee proposed allocating four hours of debate, evenly divided between supporters and opponents of impeachment, with 40 minutes for opening arguments by committee members and 20 minutes for closing statements. A simple majority is needed to send the matter to a trial before the Texas Senate. If the House votes to impeach Paxton, the memo said, the House would conduct the trial in the Senate through a group of House members called “managers.
The committee stressed that Paxton’s request earlier this year for the Legislature to pay $3.3 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit led to its investigation and ultimately the articles of impeachment. The memo also said impeachment is not a criminal process and its primary purpose is to “protect the state, not to punish the offender.”
See here for the background. You can read the articles of impeachment here. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick are still playing this close to the vest, but the state GOP Chair and other assorted deplorables are firmly Team Paxton. And speaking of which…
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is accused of impeachable offenses including bribery tied to helping a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair get a job through Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.
His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, may soon decide whether he deserves to be removed from office for that and other alleged violations of law and the public trust, which were released Thursday night by a Texas House committee.
The senator’s chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment about whether she would recuse herself.
“The first option would be for her to recuse herself,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “The second would be for the Senate to make that judgment on whether they believe going forward with a sitting senator being a spouse of a person on trial is a look you would like to have.”
It’s unclear how the more conservative Senate would vote, even if the impeachment case were to pass the House with a majority vote.
“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a Thursday interview with WFAA.
On the one hand, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. The fact that Angela Paxton could be the deciding vote on whether Ken Paxton gets removed from office or not makes this as clear a case of conflict of interest as one could imagine. Twenty votes to convict are enough to remove him if there are 30 votes total. If there are 31 votes total, and one of the No votes belongs to Angela Paxton, he stays. It doesn’t get any more obvious than that. On the other hand, there is no other hand. There’s also no mechanism other than personal integrity and/or a sense of shame to compel Angela Paxton to step aside for this. I’m sure you can guess what I think she’ll do.
Whatever does happen, that we have gotten to this point at all is a big and wholly unexpected deal.
For nearly a decade, Texas Republicans largely looked the other way as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal problems piled up.
That abruptly changed this week.
In revealing it had been secretly investigating Paxton since March — and then recommending his impeachment on Thursday — a Republican-led state House committee sought to hold Paxton accountable in a way the GOP has never come close to doing. It amounted to a political earthquake, and while it remains to be seen whether Paxton’s ouster will be the outcome, it represents a stunning act of self-policing.
“We’re used to seeing partisans protect their own, and in this case, the Republicans have turned on the attorney general,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “It’s really surprising.”
As an impeachment vote nears on the House floor, Paxton is about to learn how many Republican friends he really has, both inside the Capitol and outside.
Paxton has closely aligned himself with Donald Trump over the years, but the former president has yet to come to the attorney general’s defense. And in an interview Thursday with WFAA, Patrick declined to stick up for Paxton, pointing out that he may have to preside over a Senate trial.
“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Patrick said.
While Patrick ultimately endorsed Paxton in 2022, it came after The Texas Tribune reported that the lieutenant governor was meddling in the primary and working against Paxton.
A handful of Republicans in the Legislature have already sided against Paxton by supporting his primary challengers in 2022. Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston personally funded two of Paxton’s rivals to the tune of six figures. But for the rest, this will be the first time they have to publicly render judgment against the scandal-plagued attorney general.
On Friday morning, Rep. Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, called in to a Dallas radio show and said he was undecided on how he would vote. But he raised multiple questions about the process so far and said that while the allegations against Paxton are “very concerning,” he may be even more worried the House is fueling the perception that it is trying to “criminalize political opposition.”
Asked if there were enough House Republicans willing to join Democrats in impeaching Paxton, Harrison declined to make a prediction.
However, he said, “I think it’s fair to say that there are a large number of my colleagues who do not hold the current attorney general in very high regard.”
I remain skeptical that this will go all the way, though the general dislike of Paxton – maybe some of them are just tired of his shit – could be a big factor. Still requires a non-trivial number of Republicans to turn on him, though. This story says it will take a majority vote in the House to send the matter to the Senate for trial (so only a dozen or so Rs in the House), but previous reporting has said it takes a two-thirds vote in the House to send the matter to the Senate. Looking at the relevant laws, that appears to be the case:
Sec. 665.054. REMOVAL VOTE. (a) The governor shall remove from office a person on the address of two-thirds of each house of the legislature.
(b) The vote of each member shall be recorded in the journal of each house.
Seems clear to me, but views differ. I guess we’ll find out later today. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Note this as well:
SUBCHAPTER D. OTHER REMOVAL PROVISIONS
Sec. 665.081. NO REMOVAL FOR ACTS COMMITTED BEFORE ELECTION TO OFFICE. (a) An officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.
(b) The prohibition against the removal from office for an act the officer commits before the officer’s election is covered by:
(1) Section 21.002, Local Government Code, for a mayor or alderman of a general law municipality; or
(2) Chapter 87, Local Government Code, for a county or precinct officer.
This is the argument that Paxton’s representative in the House Chris Hilton was making, that the activities that the committee was investigating all took place before the 2022 election and thus is invalid as grounds for impeachment. The statute doesn’t specify which election, however, and I as a noted non-lawyer will point out that this could reasonably be read to mean his initial election to the office in question, which was 2014. There’s a lot of law nerdery going on about this. I’m sure we’ll hear more of it today. If the House does send this to the Senate, it won’t surprise me if there’s an immediate writ of mandamus filed with SCOTx to weigh in before it proceeds any further. And you thought this was going to be a relatively peaceful holiday weekend.
One more thing, on the subject of what could happen in the House:
Really worth emphasizing here: If the House votes to impeach Paxton — something that requires a simple majority and is probably days away — he is immediately suspended from office pending the Senate trial
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) 9:25 PM – 24 May 2023
Another data point for simple majority in the House. Make of that what you will. But if that does happen, Greg Abbott would have the option of naming a temporary AG while this gets sorted out. If Paxton does get convicted, or somehow decides it’s better to resign first, Abbott would pick someone to fill his unexpired term. That person would then be on the ballot in 2024, as would be the case when Abbott appoints a judge, and I can only imagine how searingly hot that election, in a Presidential year with Ted Cruz also on the ballot, could be. Oh, and just imagine the bloody Republican primaries next March, too. Is your blood pumping yet? I’ll have more tomorrow.
UPDATE: Paxton is handling all this with all the grace and wisdom that you’d expect from him.