AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A historic impeachment trial in Texas to determine whether Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton should be permanently removed from office will begin no later than August in the state Senate, where the jury that would determine his future could include his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton.
Setting a schedule was one of the last orders of business lawmakers took Monday during an acrimonious end to this year’s legislative session in Texas, where the impeachment laid bare fractures in America’s biggest red state beyond whether Republicans will oust one of the GOP’s conservative legal stars.
It drags Republicans — who for years have pushed fast-changing Texas farther to the right — into a summer of unfinished business and soured feelings that are likely to spill into 2024’s elections.
The stakes are also raised for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who couldn't get his full agenda through the GOP-controlled legislature on time. He almost immediately called lawmakers back to work for the first of “several” special sessions in the coming months.
His announcement made no mention of Paxton, who Abbott has remained silent on since the impeachment proceedings began last week.
At the center of the conflict in the Texas Capitol is Paxton, who the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly impeached this weekend on charges that include bribery and misuse of office following nearly a decade of scandal and criminal accusations that have dogged the state’s top lawyer. He is suspended from office pending trial in the state Senate, which set a start date of no later than Aug. 28.
Underlining the fallout of Paxton’s impeachment, the session ended with a dozen House lawmakers walking across the building and delivering the articles of impeachment to the Senate, where there are 31 senators who could act as jurors.
In a complicating twist, one of them is Sen. Paxton, who has not spoken publicly since her husband's impeachment or said whether she will recuse herself from the proceedings. She declined comment Monday when approached by The Associated Press outside the Senate chamber.
The chairman of the House investigation, Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, also declined to comment on whether it would be appropriate for Sen. Paxton to participate.
“We will manage this process with the weight and reverence it deserves and requires,” Murr said.
The impeachment made for a dramatic finale to the 140-day legislative session in Texas, where Republicans started the year with large GOP majorities following a dominant midterm election, a historic $33 billion surplus and a governor seen as a possible 2024 presidential contender.
But instead of a smooth victory lap this spring, Republicans spent months clashing with each other over promises to cut property taxes and provide vouchers to public school students, and in the end delivered neither before time was up.
Both were priorities of Abbott, who was silent as the session ended. He could also appoint an interim attorney general but has made no public comment about Paxton since impeachment proceedings began last week.
Among those who have rushed to Paxton’s defense are activists on the GOP’s hard right and former President Donald Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, who over the weekend posted on his social media platform that the governor was “MISSING IN ACTION!”
In a state where Republicans have controlled every lever of power for decades — and have used that dominance to put Texas out front nationally over contentious measures to restrict abortion and immigration — the failure of several promises in the state Capitol underscored how they do not always move in lockstep.
“There are certainly battle lines that exist within the Republican Party,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “I don’t think they’re ideological. I think you could read into this that the House is tired of being pressured by far-right Republicans, and this is their way of putting in some barriers.”
The rifts are not new in Texas, and more broadly, Republicans succeeded in passing a slew of measures they held up as victories for conservatives, including bans on gender-affirming care and banning offices of diversity, equity and inclusion at the state’s universities.
They also put Harris County, the third-largest county in the nation and the largest in Texas that is controlled by Democrats, under new laws that forced them to fire their elections administrator and opens a path for state officials to take greater control over their elections.
Paxton is only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached. He called the House investigation that led up to his impeachment “corrupt” and has broadly denied wrongdoing. The raft of accusations against him include an indictment on securities fraud charges and allegations that he misused his office to try to thwart an FBI investigation into one of his donors.
“What happened this week is nothing I take pride in,” Phelan told the chamber. “It is not anything I was proud of. But it was necessary. It was just.”
Paul J. Weber And Acacia Coronado, The Associated Press