On Wednesday, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan relieved Democrat State Rep. Joe Moody (El Paso) of his position as speaker pro tempore, effective immediately.
This was undoubtedly in response to Moody being one of the many Democrat lawmakers who left Texas for Washington, D.C., shirking responsibilities during the ongoing legislative session and paralyzing the House of Representatives who, due to lack of quorum, are unable to consider any legislation as an overall body or in the committee process.
What is the Position of Speaker Pro Tempore?
Per the House rules, the position of speaker pro tempore is governed by Rule 1, Section 10, which states:
“A permanent speaker pro tempore shall, in the absence or inability of the speaker, call the house to order and perform all other duties of the chair in presiding over the deliberations of the house and perform other duties and exercise other responsibilities related to presiding over the deliberations of the house as may be assigned in writing by the speaker.”
It goes on to say:
“The speaker pro tempore shall serve at the pleasure of the speaker. In the event of a vacancy in the office of speaker, the speaker pro tempore does not assume the office of speaker. The authority of the speaker pro tempore to perform the duties and exercise the responsibilities of the speaker is limited as provided by this section.”
Per Rule 4, Section 4 (c) of the House rules, “a permanent speaker pro tempore appointed under Rule 1, Section 10, may not serve on more than one substantive committee or as chair of a standing committee.”
Moody also currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the House Calendars Committee, a position that Phelan has not stripped him of as of yet. He previously served as speaker pro tempore during the 86th Legislative Session (2019), when he was appointed by former Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R).
Moody took to Twitter to respond, saying, “The most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan. Nothing political has ever even cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are.”
Moody hangs a banner in his office accusing Republicans of hate and racist intent for passing a bill relating to a ban on sanctuary cities during the 85th Legislative Session in 2017.
What Does it Mean?
Notably, the other Democrat lawmakers currently denying quorum still maintain their committee chairmanships and vice chairmanships, as well as seniority privileges and overall membership of key House committees, something Phelan says he cannot deny them.
Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi, who is also a former House lawmaker, took to Twitter to say that the speaker explicitly does have the power to remove any committee chair he has appointed and that the House can compel attendance “under such penalties as each House may provide.”
Phelan has thus far been reluctant to punish these lawmakers in any real way. On Wednesday, he submitted a letter requesting that these lawmakers return their legislative per diem to the State Treasury. On Thursday, he released a statement that included a list of those lawmakers, which totals 49, who have not responded to his request and returned that per diem.