Note: This report has been updated since we issued our Breaking News alert.
Following a closed-door meeting that lasted more than four hours, the House Republican Caucus released a statement that its members “condemn in the strongest possible terms the offensive language used and the statements made” by Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) and Rep. Dennis Burrows (R-Lubbock) during a secretly recorded June 12 meeting with Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of Empower Texans. “Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members.”
The caucus said it will “fully support” the members mentioned by Bonnen and Burrows during the meeting.
“Constitutionally, the Speaker can only be elected or removed when the House is in session,” said the caucus. Art. 3, Sec. 9(b) of the Texas Constitution provides that the “House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily, and thereupon proceed to the election of a Speaker from its own members.” Barring a special session, the House will not assemble again until January 2021.
In late 2017, the Republican Caucus adopted changes to its bylaws that enable it to nominate a candidate for Speaker that has the endorsement of at least two thirds of its members (a lower share in special cases). “We intend to abide by those provisions accordingly,” said the caucus in the statement. This suggests that, despite recent declarations from members that he resign, the Caucus is not actively seeking Bonnen’s resignation. If Bonnen were to vacate the speakership, it is unclear if another Republican could take his place without a special session.
Rule 1, Sec. 10 of the House Rules (PDF) provides that the Speaker “shall have the right to name any member to perform the duties of the chair and may name a member to serve as speaker pro tempore.” Bonnen appointed Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to be speaker pro tempore in January. The rule appears to indicate that the “permanent speaker pro tempore” serves as Speaker, fulfilling all duties. The same rule provides that the Speaker may name another permanent speaker pro tempore while the House is not in session only in case the permanent speaker pro tempore “is not available or for any reason is not able to function.” However, contradicting that limitation, the rule closes by saying that the speaker pro tempore “shall serve at the pleasure of the speaker,” although that may be within the confines of a legislative session.
Following the Caucus meeting, Rep. DeWayne Burns (R-Cleburne) said in a statement that he “could no longer support” Bonnen as Speaker because he “has lost the trust of members of the Texas House, citizens I serve and voters across the state of Texas.”
Others took a different tack. In a joint statement, Reps. Justin Holland (R-Heath), Jeff Leach (R-Allen), Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) and Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) said Bonnen should “work diligently to prove to all 149 House members and, more importantly, to the people of Texas that he can rebuild trust and continue to faithfully lead the House.” However, the four members said they would expect to select a new Speaker “if that is not possible.” Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) said, “Good people make mistakes. I still support Speaker Bonnen.”
Meanwhile, the General Investigating Committee has retained three civil law experts to “aid the committee in evaluating the evidence solely on legal considerations,” said Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), chair of the committee, in a statement. The committee retained former Chief Justice Thomas Phillips (R) and former Reps. Patricia Gray (D-Galveston) and Will Hartnett (R-Dallas).
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