Since the end of the regular session earlier this year, talks about efforts to remove and replace House Speaker Dade Phelan have grown.
Those conversations have intensified following the failed impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, which was led by Phelan.
And when the U.S. House of Representatives removed Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his position earlier this month, the discussion hit an all-time high.
Last week, State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) attempted to ask Phelan some parliamentary inquiries on the process of making “a motion to vacate the chair.” In response, Phelan barred Tinderholt from asking any more questions without prior approval.
When it comes to that process, any member of the Texas House can make a motion to “vacate the chair”, or remove the speaker. That could be combined with a motion to replace him with another candidate, or it could just be a stand alone motion.
Such a maneuver would be considered a privileged motion, which is of such urgency or importance that it should be considered immediately. In other words, the Speaker must recognize members when they make it.
In practice, however, this has been tested. In 2007, when Tom Craddick was the speaker of the House, members tried to make motions to remove him from the speakership. He refused to recognize them, leading to a standoff and parliamentarians resigning. He was eventually replaced at the start of the next legislative session in January of 2009.
As part of rule changes made after that incident, members added a backstop to the rules:
“If the speaker denies recognition of a member who attempts to remove the current speaker and elect a new speaker, the member may appeal the speaker’s denial of recognition if the member submits to the speaker a written request, signed by at least 76 members of the house, to appeal the decision of recognition.”
While this requirement isn’t strictly necessary (the speaker should recognize any single member for a motion to replace him) it is designed to act as a reinforcement in case he does not, with 76 members being a majority of the 150-member body.
Whether or not a member makes the motion to replace Phelan during this special session remains to be seen, though calls on Phelan to be replaced have grown with Donald Trump, Ken Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the Republican Party of Texas calling for new leadership in the chamber.
When the House returns on Thursday, there will be 19 days left in the 30-day special session.