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GOP-led Texas House impeaches Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney general of Texas, has been suspended from his duties as he awaits a trial before the state Senate. This follows a vote by the GOP-led state House of Representatives to impeach him over allegations of bribery, abuse of office and other misconduct. Sergio Martinez-Beltran, who covers politics for the Texas Newsroom, was in the House chamber during that vote on Saturday, and he joins us now. Good morning.

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: Hi. So what was the mood like in that chamber during the vote?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Well, it was very somber. The whole impeachment vote lasted about four hours. Members of the House General Investigating Committee laid out the evidence against Attorney General Paxton. And, you know, this is a bipartisan panel. So both Republicans and Democrats went into detail over Paxton's alleged misdeeds involving one of his political donors.

And one of the big accusations is that Paxton used the office of the attorney general to intervene in an FBI investigation against his friend. He even hired an outside attorney for this despite his staff telling him not to. And a reminder that Paxton was indicted by federal authorities in 2015 and still hasn't gone to trial yet. Some of these articles of impeachment are related to that. Now, we should mention some Republican members raised concerns about the whole process, but didn't defend Paxton, which I thought was interesting to hear.

FADEL: Yeah. Now, only a simple majority was needed, but most Texas House members voted to impeach, right?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Right. One hundred twenty-one members voted in favor of the 20 articles of impeachment against Attorney General Ken Paxton. So that means nearly all Democrats and most Republicans. I talked to Texas State Representative Ann Johnson. She's a Democrat who serves on the House General Investigating Committee. She says she's not surprised to see so many members of both parties vote this way.

ANN JOHNSON: Public integrity is not partisan. And this was an overwhelming vote to recognize that the top cop was on the take, engaged in, as accused, issues of bribery, public corruption, official abuses, abuse of capacity, and so many other potential state crimes.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Again, Johnson is a Democrat, but Republicans have also said Paxton has acted like he's above the law. One of the Republican members even said from the House floor that Paxton had called members and threatened them with political consequences in their next election if they voted to impeach.

FADEL: Now, we should note that Paxton has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and has lashed out against the impeachment proceedings in the Texas House, calling it a sham, illegal. And as you point out, though, many of his fellow Republicans are part of this impeachment process in agreement. What do we expect to happen now that it goes to a state Senate trial?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: So first the House would have to select members to serve as impeachment managers in the trial, and they would be presenting the case in the Senate. And then that chamber will then conduct a trial, and senators will have to decide whether to convict Paxton. Now, the threshold in the Senate is higher - a two-third vote is needed to convict. And it's important to note, Leila, that Ken Paxton's wife, Angela Paxton, is a state senator, and she's required to be in attendance. Now, it's unclear if she will recuse herself.

FADEL: And how rare is it to see impeachment proceedings like this in Texas?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Really rare - only two other public officials have been impeached in Texas history - a governor in 1917 and a judge in 1976. And this issue is also rare because Paxton is beloved by Republican voters, he's friends with former President Donald Trump and was a prominent election denier, even trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. So all of this is historic. It's unprecedented. And quite frankly, it's pretty wild.

FADEL: Sergio Martinez-Beltran covers politics for the Texas Newsroom. Thanks so much.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.