LIVE: Suspended AG Paxton pleads not guilty to all impeachment articles after Senate refuses to dismiss charges
Twelve Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in the vote to essentially move forward with a trial.
AUSTIN (TEXAS TRIBUNE) - The Texas Senate on Tuesday rejected all of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s efforts to dismiss the articles of impeachment against him, moving forward with the first removal proceeding against a statewide elected official in more than a century.
The rapid-fire series of votes on 16 pretrial motions made clear that senators want to at least hear the evidence against Paxton before deciding his fate. And the vote counts provided an early gauge of how willing GOP senators may be to remove a fellow Republican from statewide office.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Follow deliberations in the Texas Senate in the Live Events livestream player above.
While the House vote to impeach Paxton was overwhelming and bipartisan, the Senate offers a different political landscape. Its Republican members are more in line with Paxton’s brand of conservatism, and he has more personal connections in the chamber where he once served and his wife remains a member.
The pretrial motions required a majority vote, but the most support a motion to dismiss received was 10 out of 30 senators — all Republicans — and that motion sought to throw out a single article.
Six Republican senators supported every motion in a nod of support for Paxton: Paul Bettencourt of Houston, Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Bob Hall of Edgewood, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Tan Parker of Flower Mound. Half of those senators — Bettencourt, Campbell and Parker — are up for reelection next year.
Five Republicans — Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Charles Perry of Lubbock, Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and Kevin Sparks of Midland — voted in favor of at least one motion to dismiss.
The remaining seven Republicans voted with all 12 Democrats against each motion. Those senators were Pete Flores of Pleasanton, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Joan Huffman of Houston, Mayes Middleton of Galveston, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Drew Springer of Muenster.
Setting the tone, the Senate denied Paxton’s first two motions by votes of 24-6 and 22-8.
Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton, center, stands between his attorneys Tony Buzbee, front, and Dan Cogdell, rear, as the articles of his impeachment are read during the his impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol on Sept. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) pic.twitter.com/IWne25wJzB— KWTX News 10 (@kwtx) September 5, 2023
The first motion asked the Senate to throw out every article of impeachment for lack of evidence. Twelve Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in the vote to essentially move forward with a trial.
The second motion asked senators to exclude evidence from before January, when Paxton’s current four-year term began. That motion struck at the heart of one of Paxton’s main arguments — that he cannot be impeached for any actions allegedly taken before he was reelected last year. Paxton’s defenders have repeatedly cited the so-called forgiveness doctrine to criticize the House impeachment as illegal.
The House impeached Paxton in May, alleging a yearslong pattern of lawbreaking and misconduct. He was immediately suspended from his job, and the Senate trial, which started at 9 a.m. Tuesday, will determine whether he is permanently removed from office.
There were two dozen pretrial motions. A simple majority was required to approve 16 of them because they sought to dismissal all or some of the articles of impeachment. The presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, was allowed to rule on the other motions unilaterally.
Notably, Patrick granted Paxton’s motion that prevents the suspended attorney general from being forced to testify in the trial. The House impeachment managers had opposed the motion, arguing that if Paxton wanted to avoid self-incrimination, he could take advantage of his Fifth Amendment right from the witness stand.
As the Senate proceeds to a trial, a two-thirds vote is required to convict Paxton. That means that if all 12 Democrats vote to convict, half the remaining 18 Republican with a vote would have to join them. Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, is disqualified from voting but allowed to attend the trial.
State Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, prays during the impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, her husband, in the Senate chambers at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool) pic.twitter.com/4vNbf0nA2Y— KWTX News 10 (@kwtx) September 5, 2023
Trial deliberations are private, so the process of voting on the pretrial motions followed a dry routine Tuesday morning. Senators submitted their votes in writing, the Senate secretary announced each senators’ votes from the front mic, reading them off in random order, and Patrick verified each vote from the dais.
The motion to dismiss that got the most support — 10 votes‚ sought to individually dismiss Article 8. That article accuses Paxton of disregarding his official duties by pursuing a taxpayer-funded settlement with former top staffers who reported concerns about his relationship with Paul to the FBI in 2020.
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