Why Texas’ GOP-controlled House wants to impeach Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton

After years of legal and ethical scandals, there could be an impeachment vote on Saturday that could quickly throw him from office

Ken Paxton
Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton at his office in Austin, Texas, on May 26.Eric Gay (AP)

After years of legal and ethical scandals swirling around Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives has moved toward a Saturday impeachment vote that could quickly throw him from office.

The extraordinary and rarely used maneuver comes in the final days of the state’s legislative session and sets up a bruising political fight. It pits Paxton, who has aligned himself closely with former President Donald Trump and the state’s hard-right conservatives, against House Republican leadership, who appear to have suddenly had enough of the allegations of wrongdoing that have long dogged Texas’ top lawyer.

Paxton is fighting it every step of the way, calling the entire process “corrupt.” He asked supporters to rally for him at the state Capitol during the vote.

Here is how the impeachment process works in Texas, and how the 60-year-old Republican came to face the prospect of becoming just the third official to be impeached in the state’s nearly 200-year history:

The process

Under the Texas Constitution and law, impeaching a state official is similar to the process on the federal level: The action starts in the state House.

In this case the five-member House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously Thursday to send 20 articles of impeachment to the full, 149-member chamber.

Paxton faces grim legislative math. Just a simple majority is needed to impeach. That means only a small fraction of the House’s 85 Republicans would need to vote against him if all 64 Democrats do.

The House can call witnesses to testify, but the investigating committee already did that prior to recommending impeachment. Over several hours Wednesday, investigators delivered an extraordinary public airing of Paxton’s years of scandal and alleged lawbreaking.

Saturday’s floor debate and vote is expected to last about five hours.

If the House impeaches Paxton, a Senate trial will decide whether to permanently remove him from office or acquit. Removal by the Senate requires a two-thirds majority vote.

A sudden threat

But there is a major difference between Texas and the federal system: And impeachment means Paxton is immediately suspended from office until the outcome of the Senate trial. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would appoint an interim replacement.

The GOP in Texas controls every branch of state government. Republican lawmakers and leaders alike have until this week taken a muted posture toward the myriad examples of Paxton’s alleged misconduct and law breaking that emerged in legal filings and news reports over the years.

In February, Paxton agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former aides who accused him of corruption. The $3.3 million payout must be approved by the House, and Republican Speaker Dade Phelan has said he doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill.

Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation into Paxton began.

“But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment,” the investigative committee wrote in a Friday memo.

The scene

While the vote happens inside the House chamber, Paxton has called for supporters statewide to descend on the Capitol and demonstrate peacefully.

“Exercise your right to petition your government. Let’s restore the power of this great state to the people, instead of the politicians,” Paxton said.

The request echoed Trump’s call for people to protest his electoral defeat on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Paxton spoke at the rally in Washington that day, before the insurrection.

A few hours before the impeachment vote, Gov. Abbott, who has stayed quiet about it, is scheduled to make a Memorial Day address to lawmakers in the House chamber.

The Capitol and the House gallery have been the site of boisterous demonstrations over gun and LGBTQ+ rights legislation in recent weeks. Hundreds of state police troopers cleared the gallery and Capitol rotunda after protests erupted over a bill to ban transgender medical care for minors.

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