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Texas lawmakers begin special session as infighting among GOP leaders escalates

 Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan
AP
There is bad blood between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.

The Texas Legislature reconvened Monday for an overtime session that is supposed to tackle school choice and border enforcement. But opening day was overshadowed by the tension between Texas Republicans in the House and Senate Republicans — tensions that only escalated following weekend attacks on Israel that left hundreds there dead.

Wait, what does the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip have to do with the Texas Legislature?

Before last weekend, the answer could have been: “Not much.” But that was before a bombshell report Sunday from the Texas Tribune which revealed Nick Fuentes, a well-known white supremacist, met with a political group led by a former Republican state representative whose affiliated groups are major donors to Republican lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Fuentes reportedly spent several hours in Fort Worth at the headquarters of Pale Horse Strategies, which is led by Jonathon Stickland, a former House member from Tarrant County. Stickland is also the president of Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that has donated millions to Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

House Speaker Dade Phelan vs. Lt. Gov Dan Patrick

There is still bad blood between the two Texas leaders following the impeachment trial and acquittal of Paxton, who faced 16 articles of impeachment after being accused of bribery and abuse of office. Patrick has chastised the House managers who brought the charges and loudly slammed Phelan for allowing Paxton’s impeachment to move forward.

After reports that Fuentes was in Fort Worth, Phelan called on Patrick to return the donations from Defend Texas Liberty and severely criticized Fuentes’ visit to the consulting firm’s headquarters.

“This [isn’t] just a casual misstep,” Phelan said in a statement posted on social media. “It’s indicative of the moral, political rot that has been festering in a certain segment of our party for far too long. Anti-Semitism, bigotry and Hitler apologists should find no sanctuary in the Republican party. Period.”

He then called on Patrick to lead by example.

“Lt. Governor Dan Patrick took $3 million from this organization. I expect him to lead the way in redirecting these funds,” said Speaker Phelan.

Patrick later called on Phelan to resign, accusing the powerful Republican of politicizing the tragedy in Israel and the Gaza strip.

“For anyone to try to use these invectives for their own political gain is below contempt. I am calling on Dade Phelan to resign his position before the House gavels in this afternoon,” Patrick said in a statement Monday. “There is no place in Texas political discourse for any elected official to use the atrocities in Israel for their own political gain. That’s what Dade Phelan is doing. At this point, he’s simply got to go.”

Patrick also disavowed Fuentes, saying “Those who spew such vile, loathsome, abominations will have to answer for it.”

So, what else happened Monday?

Both chambers kicked off their legislative overtime by adopting resolutions condemning the violence in Israel and the House quickly adjourned afterward. Several House bills related to the special session agenda have already been filed but haven’t yet been scheduled for a committee hearing, which is the next step in passing legislation. The House gaveled out until Thursday, but committees could meet before then if bills are sent their way.

Over in the Senate, four bills were referred to committees on Monday. The chamber’s finance committee met Monday afternoon to discuss legislation related to establishing a voucher-like program for Texas’ public schools. The Senate’s border security committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday.

Phelan spoke briefly with reporters and brushed off Patrick’s calls for him to relinquish the gavel.

“It must be Monday, another call for my resignation from lieutenant governor. So, good for him,” he said, adding that the donations from the Stickland-affiliated group aren’t his problem but instead Patrick’s.

“I didn't take $3 million from a from a [political action committee] that’s associated with Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. That's not my problem. That's someone else's problem,” he said.

On border security, Phelan slammed the Biden administration for what the speaker said are “disastrous” policies on immigration.

“Since I got elected, we are now up to nearly $12 billion of taxpayer money here in Texas spent on border security. That is wrong. We deserve that money back,” he said. “The federal government is to step up and secure our southern border.”  

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

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