Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan stripped a top Democrat, speaker pro tem Joe Moody, of his leadership post in the House Thursday as hundreds of people gathered outside the state Capitol to protest a GOP-proposed voting bill.
Phelan issued a statement Thursday morning saying Moody was being relieved of duty effective immediately, though he didn't elaborate as to why.
Moody is one of the Texas House Democrats who walked out of the special session earlier this week to break quorum and prevent a vote on an election bill they say is veiled voter suppression and not simply a law to make elections more secure in Texas.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie, District 101) was critical of Moody's dismissal saying on Twitter it was "short-sighted and dumb."
After learning of Phelan's decision, Moody responded on Twitter, "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."
Protesters Rally Outside State Capitol
Meanwhile, outside the state Capitol, hundreds of ministers and activists rallied against the Republican voting bill saying it would restrict voting rights, especially of people of color.
“We are thankful just to be here, to be a voice,” said Rev. Larry Williams, a pastor at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in DeSoto.
The rally took on the air of a civil rights rally from decades ago.
Claude Cummings is vice president of the Communications Workers of America.
"My wife is from Selma, Alabama. At 13-years-old she marched,” Cummings said. “And I have seen her the last couple of days, just saying to myself, ‘I cannot believe I'm fighting this fight all over again.’"
The standoff between Democrats and Republicans showed no signs of easing. With both sides dug in, it appeared the showdown could last weeks if not months.
Speaker Phelan Charters Plane
Phelan issued another statement Thursday afternoon demanding House Democrats return to Austin and notifying them he was chartering a plane to bring them back to Texas on Saturday.
“I am demanding all of our colleagues in D.C. to contact my staff immediately in order to secure their seat,” Phelan wrote on Twitter. “The state of Texas is waiting.”
Texas Democrats, who have been threatened with arrest upon return to the state and also who said earlier this week they were prepared to spend the entire session in the nation's capital, tweeted Thursday afternoon Phelan should save his money.
"The Speaker should save his money. We won’t be needing a plane anytime soon, as our work to save democracy from the Trump Republicans is just getting started," Texas Democrats said on Twitter.
The current 30-day special session ends on Aug. 6. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who can call as many special sessions as he wants, says he'll continue to call them until the next election if necessary.
NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report.