Johnson Says He Has ‘Real Reservations’ Ahead of Pending Santos Expulsion Vote

November 29, 2023 by Dan McCue
Johnson Says He Has ‘Real Reservations’ Ahead of Pending Santos Expulsion Vote
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., during a press conference in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Wednesday said he “personally, has real reservations” about a motion to expel embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., but added that he’s told members of his conference they should “vote their conscience” on the matter.

Santos has been charged with 23 federal criminal counts for which he is expected to go to trial next year.

Earlier this month, a scathing House Ethics Committee report found Santos repeatedly lied about his background and spent campaign funds on botox treatments, gambling trips to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and on OnlyFans, an adult entertainment site.

A vote on the representative’s expulsion from the House is expected to come sometime Thursday.

And Santos himself has said he plans to hold a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol at 8 a.m. Thursday morning.

On Wednesday, members of the House Republican Conference huddled at the Capitol Hill Club on First Street to discuss what to do about Santos.

“There were opinions shared on both sides,” Johnson said during a press conference in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol shortly after the conference meeting broke up.

“Listen, I’ve said that the Republican Party is the rule of law team. And we are. We are for the rule of law,” he said.

“There are people of good faith who make an argument, both pro and con, on the expulsion resolution for Santos,” Johnson continued.

“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 is exacted on them. That’s the precedent so far,” the speaker said.

“There are others who say upholding the rule of law requires us to take this step now because some of the things he’s alleged to have done — according to the House Ethics Committee — are infractions against the House itself,” he said.

Johnson said he’s told his leadership team that people will be allowed to vote their conscience, calling it the “only appropriate thing we can do.”

“We’ve not whipped the vote, and we wouldn’t,” Johnson said as the entire Republican leadership looked on. 

“I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this. I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that,” he said.

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. (Photo by Dan McCue)

For his part, Santos has wavered between defiance and a sense of the inevitable in his public comments in recent weeks.

In a post on X over the Thanksgiving weekend, Santos said he’d had a conversation with the speaker that he characterized as “positive” and said he was unbowed by the prospect of standing for an expulsion vote.

“Expel me and set the precedent so we can see who the judge, jury and executioners in Congress are,” he wrote. “The American people deserve to know!”

Expulsion from the House requires a two-thirds vote by members, and Santos has already survived two other attempts to oust him from the chamber.

It appears that Thursday’s vote will be markedly different, as a number of lawmakers who voted against expelling him in the past have now stated they will support such a motion in the wake of the Ethics Committee’s findings.

Last week, Santos himself indicated he no longer has enough support to stay in Congress.

“I know I’m going to get expelled when this expulsion resolution goes to the floor,” Santos said then. “I’ve done the math over and over, and it doesn’t look really good.”

If he is removed by the House, Santos would be only the sixth lawmaker to be expelled from the chamber in its 234-year history.

As Johnson indicated, Santos will also be the first lawmaker to be removed by expulsion without having been convicted of a crime first.

The motion to expel Santos that will be considered Thursday was introduced by House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss.

On Tuesday night, another Republican, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., motioned to move Guest’s resolution under privilege, meaning it would have to be considered within 48 hours.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats say any support Santos is still garnering from his conference leadership is entirely due to the slim margin of their majority.

Like his predecessor, the recently ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Johnson is the leader of one of the narrowest congressional majorities in decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., speaks with reporters outside the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Dan McCue)

Though the exact margin can change depending on how many representatives are present in the chamber and voting on a particular issue, with a full slate of members, including Santos, Johnson could typically only afford to lose four votes from within his conference.

“He is a serial fraudster. There is no sense that George Santos should have ever been elected, but for his incredible lies to his own constituents,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., at House Democrats’ weekly press conference on Wednesday. 

“George Santos has only been allowed to stay a member of Congress because of the thin majority. Do you think for any minute if Republicans had a 25-seat majority, they would care about George Santos’ vote?” he asked.

“They needed him to vote for Speaker McCarthy. They needed him to vote for Speaker Johnson. That is the only reason why he is still a member of Congress,” Aguilar said.

But there are Republicans who are standing by Santos.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, has told reporters with no uncertainty that he will vote against expelling Santos from the chamber. Other GOP hardliners, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., have said they will do the same.

And Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., told reporters as he emerged from the Capitol Hill Club that not only is he a no vote, but he doubts the yes votes will come close to the threshold for tossing Santos out.

“Let his voters deal with it. George Santos did what he did to his people in his district, that elected him. Let them deal with it,” he said as he was surrounded by a swarm of reporters on the sidewalk outside the club.

He added: “I don’t think they can get the 270-some votes to do it. If they do, then we’ll see.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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