AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is expected to weather a challenge to his post when lawmakers return for the third special session on Monday, in an intraparty GOP feud fueled by the same kind of animus that cost former U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy his position on Tuesday.
Phelan was elected for a second term as speaker on an overwhelming and bipartisan 145-3 vote in January. Since then, his relationship with some of the most hardline members of the Republican Party has withered. His GOP opponents cite the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and his cooperation with Democrats as reasons to seek new leadership.
“He has been an absolute disgrace as speaker,” Chairman of the Texas Republican Party Matt Rinaldi told Nexstar. “If this were a more dignified system like the English Parliament, Dade Phelan would have resigned the day after Ken Paxton was acquitted. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. So we’re going to have to remove him, and they should.”
Rinaldi expects some members to force a motion to vacate when the House returns on Monday. His party voted to call for his resignation last month.
The Speaker’s Office declined to comment to Nexstar Thursday, but he has long remained steadfast in his commitment to the job.
“I’m here to win this race, I’m here to become speaker again next session, and I will put my record up against anybody,” Phelan told reporters with Beaumont television station KFDM this week.
A challenge to Speaker Phelan has no chance of success, longtime Capitol observers agree. Phelan enjoys broad support from Democrats and the mainstream Republican leadership.
“My expectation is that the challenge will be early. It will be soundly defeated,” Publisher of Quorum Report Harvey Kronberg said. “The populist Republicans have yet to demonstrate that they can govern… the mainstream Republicans are still the majority inside the Texas House, despite all the external forces doing attack ads already and putting billboards up in supposedly vulnerable Republican districts.”
Among those “populist” Republicans, Midlothian representative Brian Harrison stands as one of the most outspoken critics of Phelan despite having voted for him in January.
“I hope the speaker will listen to the calls from President Donald Trump, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, the Republican Party of Texas, myself, and other conservative members of the House to do the right thing for Texas and step down,” Rep. Harrison told Nexstar. “We need a bold, real conservative in the Speaker’s chair in the Texas House.”
Harrison did not confirm whether he would bring a motion to vacate, nor did he suggest a replacement candidate for speaker. He cited grievances including Ken Paxton’s impeachment and the House’s failure to pass some conservative priorities like “school choice,” vaccine mandate bans, and additional border security funding.
Harrison and the GOP also object to Phelan’s appointment of Democrats as committee chairs. Democrats chair just under one-fourth of the Texas House’s committees — 9 out of 39. The speaker appoints all committee chairs.
“We have wide open borders, we have no medical freedom, and we don’t have education freedom. It should never have gotten here. And we need somebody in the Speaker’s chair, who will pass the conservative priorities that Texas needs.”
A motion to vacate the chair requires a simple majority of members.