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Texas Senate overturns Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment by the state House

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The Texas Senate found Ken Paxton not guilty in his impeachment trial, a vote that automatically reinstalled him as the state's attorney general. It's a big win for some Republicans in Texas - namely those who support former President Donald Trump. Paxton was a key player in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, and he has a history of attacking Biden administration policies. Sergio Martinez-Beltran covers politics for the Texas Newsroom and joins us from Austin. Good morning.

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So remind us why Paxton was facing an impeachment trial in the first place.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Sure. Yesterday's vote was truly the culmination of a four-month ordeal in the Texas legislature. In May, the Republican-led House launched an investigation of accusations made by Paxton's former employees who said he used his office to shield a political donor from an FBI investigation. A bipartisan panel of investigators found there was sufficient evidence that Paxton committed bribery and obstruction of justice. And House lawmakers had overwhelmingly voted to impeach him, and he was immediately suspended as attorney general. But the Texas Senate is the only chamber that can convict Paxton. And that didn't happen yesterday. Senators rejected all 16 articles of impeachment. This time, only two Republicans voted to convict. So this means Paxton is back as attorney general.

RASCOE: So he was impeached overwhelmingly by the Texas House but saved by the Senate. Like, what is that dynamic?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Right. Some Republican senators blamed the House for letting it get this far. They said there wasn't enough evidence against Paxton and that the impeachment process in the House was rushed. It's worth noting that the House is majority Republican, and the speaker is also a Republican. But Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presided over the Senate trial, scolded them for how they conducted the impeachment in that chamber.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN PATRICK: In the House, the vote to send the articles of impeachment against the attorney general to the Senate happened in only a few days with virtually no time for 150 members to even study the articles. The speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent that the House set in every other impeachment before.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: And Paxton's lawyers push this narrative that the people behind the impeachment efforts were Paxton's political enemies, and they weren't talking only about Democrats. In fact, Republican state senators got a lot of pressure before this vote. There was a coordinated effort by political activists to get people to call the offices of these lawmakers. And the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas vowed that in next year's primary elections, he'll back the opponents of those senators and House members who supported impeachment. Other Republican fundraising groups have said the same thing.

RASCOE: Wow. OK. So after his acquittal, Paxton issued a statement warning President Biden that he was back in office. What was that about?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Well, Paxton has been in office since 2015. So for three terms, he's used his role as Texas attorney general to create a national profile, and he's done it a few ways. He sued the Obama and Biden administration's over federal spending, immigration and abortion. So as soon as he got acquitted, Paxton issued a statement where he told President Biden to buckle up because his policies will not go unchallenged. Paxton is also a big supporter of Donald Trump's. After the 2020 election, like you mentioned, Texas sued to try to get election results in four states tossed out. They went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected the lawsuit.

RASCOE: That's Sergio Martinez-Beltran of the Texas Newsroom. Thank you so much for joining us.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Sergio Martinez Beltrán

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