(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday that he has “real reservations” about the upcoming vote to expel Rep. George Santos, citing concerns that removing a member without being convicted would establish a bad precedent.
But despite those reservations, Santos appears poised to become the sixth member in history to be expelled from the House of Representatives.
“I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith,” Johnson said during a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday. “I personally have real reservations about doing this. I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Johnson said the Santos expulsion vote is now likely going to occur on Friday. The plan, which is still fluid, is for the House to debate the resolution on Thursday and then vote on Friday, a source told ABC News.
Santos said he will hold a news conference on the Capitol steps Thursday morning.
Johnson acknowledged one potential justification to expel Santos now — before his day in court — citing the House Ethics Committee’s determination that Santos committed several “infractions” against House rules. The scathing report from the House Ethics Committee alleged the New York congressman “placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles.”
Johnson says members can “vote their conscience” and leadership will not instruct them how to vote — setting up a dramatic vote later this week.
While there is certainly growing momentum to oust Santos, there are a number of Republicans who are openly conflicted about how to vote.
“We should have a system of justice in this country, and until you’re found guilty, that makes it a little tougher in a court of law,” Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee told ABC News. “I am on the fence.”
Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds told ABC News he will not vote to expel Santos.
“The bar has to be very high for the other members of Congress to remove a member. And that is, in my view, a conviction in a court of law,” Donalds said.
On Nov. 1, when the House failed a second attempt to expel Santos, just 179 lawmakers voted to remove Santos, while 213 voted to keep him. A vote to expel Santos requires a two-thirds majority — 290 votes if there is perfect attendance. That tally — 45.66 percent for expulsion — did not even reach a simple majority. Nineteen lawmakers, including members of the House Ethics Committee, had voted “present” rather than take a fixed position on expulsion on Nov. 1.
Santos is still defiant as ever, telling ABC News there is no chance he’ll resign.
“I’m not going to be bullied out of this job, out of the House, out of my seat. Now if they want me out, vote me out,” he said.
Now that the House Ethics Committee’s report is public, it’s an open question whether that’s created enough cover for members who have twice voted to protect Santos to now vote to kick him out of Congress.
Johnson has acknowledged the void Santos’ expulsion could create in his narrow GOP majority, but he has urged Santos to consider all options — including resignation — to avoid forcing his colleagues take a tough vote. There are also some Republicans who simply want Santos to keep punching his vote card to aid their majority.
With just 179 lawmakers previously voting to expel Santos, more than 120 more members must join the chorus for expulsion to succeed on Thursday.
Even if all the Democrats who were absent (11), voted against (31) or voted present (15) on Santos’ expulsion on Nov. 1 voted for his expulsion this time around, that would only add 57 more votes to expel – more than 50 votes shy of forcing Santos’ removal.
Additional votes may come from Republicans who are expected to turn against Santos. Just 24 of 222 Republicans have voted on the House floor to expel Santos so far, but after the scathing House Ethics Committee report, dozens are expected to change their tune.
As Santos has acknowledged himself, the votes seem as if they’re there for a history-making moment in the House.
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