House About To Expel Its First Republican

[ Posted Wednesday, November 29th, 2023 – 16:47 UTC ]

The House of Representatives is going to vote tomorrow on whether to formally expel a member of its ranks. And at this point, things don't look good for George Santos. Expulsion from the House would require a two-thirds majority, which would mean a substantial number of Republicans would have to vote to kick one of their own out. But the whip counts circulating today seem to indicate that up to 90 Republicans are now willing to do so. This would be historic, since it would be only the sixth House expulsion ever and only the third since the Civil War. But it will make history in one other interesting way as well, since if Santos is kicked out he will be the first Republican ever to suffer this fate.

The three representatives kicked out of the House in 1861 were all Democrats. Two of them (John B. Clark and John W. Reid) were from Missouri and one (Henry C. Burnett) was from Kentucky, and they were all booted out for supporting the Confederacy in the Civil War. Or, to call it by its real name: treason. Which seems an entirely valid reason to bar someone from serving in government, you've got to admit.


Michael Myers

The other two happened much more recently, in 1980 and 2002. In the first, Democrat Michael Myers (no, not that Mike Myers...) of Pennsylvania was kicked out after being convicted of bribery and conspiracy in a federal court. This was part of the fallout from the ABSCAM sting, where the F.B.I. posed as wealthy Arabs offering various members of Congress lots of cash in exchange for political favors. Myers accepted $50,000 of this cash, and was convicted on August 30th, 1980. The House then leapt into action and booted Myers out on October 2nd, by a vote of 376-30.

There was no question of his guilt -- there were tapes. From a contemporaneous Washington Post article:

Taped accepting the cash payoff, [Representative Michael] Myers said: "I'm gonna tell you somthin' real simple and short. Money talks in this business and bullshit walks. And it works the same way down in Washington."

Myers was a real piece of work, as his Wikipedia page shows. Here's what else he was up to while in office (which, notably, didn't get him expelled):

In 1979, he got into a fight with a security guard and a 19-year-old female cashier in an elevator leading from the rooftop lounge of a Quality Inn motel in Arlington, Virginia, punching and kicking them. Myers became combative after they told him to turn down the music at a party he was having in the motel, shouting, "I'm a congressman: we don't have to be quiet." He was subsequently charged with assault and battery, and eventually pleaded no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct three months later. He received a six-month suspended sentence.

That wasn't enough to get him kicked out, but a federal bribery conviction was. This changed the existing precedent of the House refusing to expel members for corruption, so it was a historic event. The few who argued against expulsion mostly did so on the timing of the vote (which is germane to the Santos vote tomorrow, in a way) -- Myers had indeed been convicted of federal crimes, but he had yet to be sentenced. Some even argued that he shouldn't be expelled before all of his appeals had been heard -- which didn't happen until June of 1983, when the Supreme Court refused to hear the ABSCAM appeals. But for 376 House members, the conviction was enough. Myers eventually got a sentence of three years.

His prison stint didn't change his fundamental character flaws, as Wikipedia goes on to point out:

Myers was accused of conspiring to violate voting rights by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes for specific candidates in the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 elections. He was charged on July 21, 2020, with bribery of an election official, falsification of records, voting more than once in federal elections, and obstruction of justice.

The charges included conspiring with and bribing Domenick J. Demuro, the former Judge of Elections for the 39th Ward, 36th Division. Demuro pleaded guilty in May 2020 in federal court in Philadelphia that he was responsible for overseeing the entire election process and all voter activities of his division in accordance with federal and state election laws. On June 6, 2022, Myers pled guilty to those new charges. On September 27, 2022, he was sentenced to 2 and a half years in federal prison by Judge Paul S. Diamond.


James Traficant

Twenty years later, the House of Representatives again gave a Democratic member the boot. This time around it was James Traficant of Ohio who got the ol' heave-ho -- who was also a real piece of work. Think of him (using today's terms) as the Democrats' Joe Manchin, except over in the House. But that's getting ahead of the story.

Traficant was the sheriff of Mahoning County, Ohio in the early 1980s. Where he pulled off a rather amazing piece of courtroom flim-flam:

In 1983, [then-Sheriff James Traficant] was charged with racketeering for accepting bribes. Traficant, who represented himself in the criminal trial, argued that he accepted the bribes only as part of his own alleged secret undercover investigation into corruption. Traficant was acquitted of the charges, becoming the only person ever to win a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) case while representing himself.

Because this made headlines, Traficant then used it to his advantage. He ran for his local House seat in 1984 and beat a three-term Republican incumbent. Traficant was a pro-life Democrat, which wasn't all that unusual a thing to be, back in the 1980s and 90s. And he did vote against impeaching Bill Clinton. But he burned his bridges with the Democratic Party after the Republicans took over control of the House in 1995, when Traficant voted with the Republicans more than with his own party. In 2001, he voted for Republican Dennis Hastert for speaker, and the party had finally had enough. They stripped Traficant of his seniority and kicked him off all committees. The Republicans also didn't name him to any committees, meaning: "Traficant became the first member of the House of Representatives in over a century -- outside the top leadership -- to lack a single committee assignment."

In 2001, Traficant was indicted on federal corruption charges for taking campaign funds for personal use. Again, he opted to represent himself, insisting that the trial was part of a vendetta against him dating back to his 1983 trial. After a two-month federal trial, on April 11, 2002, he was convicted of ten felony counts including bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion. Per longstanding House convention, House Democrats directed him not to cast any votes pending an investigation by the United States House Committee on Ethics.

Eventually, the House Ethics Committee recommended that Traficant be expelled from Congress. On July 24, the House voted to expel him with 420 members voting yes, 1 member voting no, 9 members voting "present", and 4 members not voting. The sole vote against expulsion was Representative Gary Condit, who at the time was in the midst of a scandal of his own and had been defeated in his reelection primary.

After being expelled, Traficant ran for his old seat as an Independent, while he was in prison. He was beaten by his own former aide, Tim Ryan, who went on to unsuccessfully run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination (Ryan also lost an election for a Senate seat last year, to J.D. Vance).

In both these cases, though, the representative was only expelled after being convicted of corruption.


George Santos

Which brings us to George Santos. Not only will he become the first Republican to be expelled ever, he will also be the first in the modern era (where public corruption is considered grounds for expulsion) to be expelled before he has been convicted of any crime. Or "any crime here in America," to be technically accurate. Earlier this year, Santos entered into a plea bargain to settle a case of check fraud against him in Brazil, dating from 2008. But in the U.S., he is merely under indictment -- for 23 charges, including wire fraud, credit card fraud, and money laundering. He has not had his day in court yet (his trial is scheduled to begin in September of next year).

All of these federal charges stem from his House campaign. He allegedly ripped people off, took their money, and spent it on personal luxuries. It's likely going to be an open-and-shut case, since there is apparently a paper trail which proves all of this. But he hasn't been convicted of anything, as of now.

Two motions to expel Santos have already failed in the House. In both cases, both Democrats and Republicans voted against expulsion on the grounds that it was premature and would set a terrible precedent. Santos, it was argued, had had no due process and was therefore "innocent until proven guilty." Tossing a representative out without some sort of due process could indeed set a very low bar for expulsion, which might in the future be exploited by either party.

However, Santos is such a monumental sleazebag that even members of his own party have been itching to give him the boot (in the hopes of not having him as an albatross around their party's neck in next year's elections). So the ethics committee expedited their own investigation into Santos and released a report -- without coming to any conclusions about what punishment Santos should face (which would have dragged the process out for months). Their report, even without recommendations for punitive action, was pretty damning. They concluded Santos was absolutely shameless about grifting his donors and stealing from them and going on shopping sprees with the money. Now that the committee has acted, Santos is not expected to survive tomorrow's vote.

The argument that he had been afforded no due process seems to have been settled with the committee's report, in the minds of enough Republicans to kick out a member of their own party for the first time in history. The two-thirds margin needed means that expulsion can never be (unless one party has an overwhelming majority in the House) a purely partisan affair. It requires dozens and dozens of votes from within your own caucus to get the boot.

There are penalties that fall short of expulsion available to the House to discipline their own members. Censures and official reprimands are doled out for behavior that is deemed to fall short of requiring expulsion. But outright corruption -- especially involving how you got elected to your seat in the first place -- is another matter entirely, it seems. If George Santos wasn't such an odious character to begin with, perhaps the Republicans would have held firm until he is actually convicted in a courtroom. That would allow him the full measure of due process before being kicked out. But even though the GOP majority is razor-thin (meaning they really can't afford to give up any solidly Republican votes at all), they have reached the point of no return with George Santos.

Which is why -- barring some last-minute surprise -- tomorrow Republicans in the House of Representatives are going to vote (well, enough of them, at any rate, along with all the Democrats) to kick one of their own out, for the first time ever.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


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