One of the main reasons congressional expulsions are extremely rare is that the threshold is difficult to clear: It takes a two-thirds majority in the House to kick out a member, and on issues like these, two-thirds of members rarely agree.
Indeed, it’s only happened twice since the Civil War. In 1980, Democratic Rep. Michael Myers of Pennsylvania was expelled over his involvement with the Abscam scandal, and in 2002, Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio was expelled after he was convicted on multiple corruption charges.
As we’ve discussed, a group of House Republicans from New York, undeterred by the odds, launched an effort last week to expel one of their home-state colleagues: Rep. George Santos. For the GOP members behind the effort, the indicted congressman can no longer remain a member in good standing so they introduced a privileged resolution to force his ouster.
It didn’t work. The final tally was 179 in favor of expulsion, 213 against and 19 voting present, NBC News reported. Some 31 Democrats joined 182 Republicans in voting against expulsion, and 24 Republicans voted with 155 Democrats to expel him.
There are a handful of reasons why many GOP members balked. For some, it’s too early: Santos, who’s pleaded not guilty, hasn’t been convicted. For others, there’s a fear of setting a precedent that might someday be used against themselves or their allies.
But perhaps most important to Republican leaders is the fact they simply don’t want to see their tiny majority in the House get even smaller. House Speaker Mike Johnson was surprisingly candid on this point during an interview last week with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“Here’s the reality, Sean,” the Louisiana Republican said. “We have a four-seat majority in the House. It is possible that that number may be reduced even more in the coming weeks and months, and so we will have what may be the most razor-thin majority in the history of the Congress. We have no margin for error.”
Or put another way, the new GOP leader believes principles are nice, but having the votes to occasionally pass a bill or two is even better. It left Republicans with little incentive to kick out one of their own.
As for Santos, it’s possible, if not likely, that he’ll see today’s vote as a vindication of sorts, but his celebration should probably be muted. For one thing, the criminal charges against him are serious. For another, the New York Republican is still facing a House Ethics Committee investigation.
But perhaps most importantly, there’s no reason to believe members voted against the expulsion resolution because they see Santos as an innocent man who deserves to be on Capitol Hill. On the contrary, there’s quite a bit of bipartisan contempt for him.
Was it enough to force him out of Congress? No. Is Santos’ political future still bleak? Yes.