WASHINGTON — House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday he has "real reservations” about removing Rep. George Santos from office because of the precedent it would set, but stressed Republicans should “vote their conscience” on any expulsion motion.
Johnson’s comments came in response to two privileged motions to expel Santos, as he acknowledged the divide in his Republican caucus and his own concern about the long-lasting impact of ousting Santos.
“I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith,” he said in a morning news conference. “I personally have real reservations about doing this. I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Johnson and his leadership team had not announced by Wednesday evening any plan to act by Thursday, as required under House rules, on the expulsion motions.
WHAT TO KNOW
- House Speaker Mike Johnson expressed "real reservations" about expelling Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) because of the precedent it would set.
- Johnson (R-La.) said some GOP House members feel Santos should not be expelled unless he is convicted at trial, while others believe an Ethics Committee report shows Santos violated House rules and likely broke the law.
- “I personally have real reservations about doing this," Johnson said Wednesday. "I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Reports circulated Wednesday that the House would debate the motion Thursday and vote on Friday or even Monday. Other reports said the vote would be held Thursday.
Either way, Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) announced he would hold a news conference outside the Capitol at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Santos’ repeated refusals to resign, as Johnson and others have urged, have fueled debate about what type of behavior and legal status before a court of law would rise to a level justifying a House decision to expel a member.
The House has voted to expel five members in its history — three of them for treasonous disloyalty during the Civil War, along with Rep. Michael Myers (D-Pa.) in 1980 and Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) in 2002 after they were convicted of criminal activity.
Those two more recent cases appear to carry weight with many members.
“There are people who say you have to uphold the rule of law and allow for someone to be convicted in a criminal court before this tough penalty would be exacted on someone. That's been the precedent so far,” Johnson said.
“There are others who say, well, upholding the rule of law requires us to take this step now because some of the things that he's alleged to have done — the House Ethics Committee having done their job — are infractions against the House itself,” Johnson said.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and other ultraconservatives oppose expulsion of Santos, noting that House members such as former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) were allowed to serve out their terms despite apparent criminal actions until they were convicted.
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park), who on Tuesday introduced the expulsion motion sponsored by House Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Guest (R-Miss.), said, “If we have the opportunity in the 118th Congress to set a new precedent of holding members to a higher standard. I think that's one that we should all sign ourselves on to.”
He said the ethics report’s detailed description of Santos breaking House rules and the law has persuaded several House members that Santos has had due process and should be expelled.
Hofstra University Law School Professor James Sample told Newsday that concerns raised by Johnson that an expulsion vote before a criminal conviction would break precedent should be weighed against Santos’ alleged acts detailed in the House Ethics Report.
Some House members likely worry that expelling Santos before he’s convicted will result in tit-for-tat partisan retribution, with each party seeking to expel the other’s members before they are convicted of crimes, said Casey Burgat, director of the legislative affairs program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
But precedent cuts both ways, Burgat told Newsday.
“The precedent of not acting on such a clear-cut case is far more damaging to the institution and even to their party than letting him skate,” Burgat said.