Johnson says he has ‘real reservations’ over expelling Santos as GOP support grows for ousting New York congressman

Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday expressed “real reservations” about expelling Rep. George Santos from the House since the New York Republican has yet to be convicted of a crime — even as GOP support grows to make him just the sixth member of the chamber ever to be formally ousted from his seat in the face of damning allegations about his conduct.

Santos has survived previous attempts to remove him from the House, but momentum is building for the latest effort after the release of a scathing report from the House Ethics Committee earlier this month, which concluded that he “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.”

The renewed push to expel Santos presents a leadership test for the newly elected speaker as he navigates competing opinions within his conference.

As Republicans weigh how to vote, some argue it is imperative to expel the congressman given the findings of the ethics investigation, but others have raised concerns over due process given that Santos has not been convicted in a court of law.

If he were to be expelled, Santos would be the first House member to be ousted without having been convicted or having supported the confederacy. House Republicans also control a very narrow majority, and expulsion would shrink it even further.

“We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t,” Johnson said Wednesday morning. “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.”

Johnson’s comment that he has “reservations” won’t provide political cover for members to vote in favor of expulsion, which could make it harder for some Republicans to support such a move.

New York Republican Rep. Nick LaLota initially predicted there could be up to 150 GOP votes to oust Santos this week, but later appeared to walk that back, indicating instead that the vote “might be close” based on what he has heard from members.

“People are telling us different things as to where they think the vote count is out. I’ve spoken with a decent amount of people, and I feel like we’ll get to the two-thirds, but it might be close,” LaLota told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

When asked about Johnson’s comments, LaLota praised the speaker for running the office in a “member-driven, bottom-up” manner.

Expulsion is the most severe form of punishment for a lawmaker in the House and only five members have ever been expelled from the chamber. It is exceedingly rare and requires a two-thirds majority vote to succeed – a high bar to clear.

Santos announced that he would not seek reelection following the release of the ethics report, but he has said he will not resign and has denounced the congressional investigation and its report as “a disgusting politicized smear.”

Separately, Santos has pleaded not guilty to 23 federal charges, including allegations of fraud related to Covid-19 unemployment benefits, misusing campaign funds and lying about his personal finances on House disclosure reports.

The House will vote on the expulsion resolution on Friday, a source familiar tells CNN.

Eighteen Republicans who previously did not support expulsion for Santos have now indicated they will vote to expel in the wake of the ethics investigation, though it is not yet clear if there will be enough votes to oust the congressman.

GOP Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois noted that he is leaning toward voting for expulsion, but he would prefer it if Santos would resign. “I wish that he would step down on his own,” he said. “Most people that get in this situation – remember, we’ve only done it five times – and I, but most people come to the realization at this point that it’s more important for him to focus on his legal matters and everything like that.”

Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, said he is leaning against voting to expel Santos, noting that he has serious reservations about voting to remove a fellow member. “I don’t know whether that’s my decision, if he stays or not, but right now, I’d vote not to expel him,” he said. “I think we set a really not a good example if we can just pick and choose who comes and who stays. I don’t agree with what he’s been accused of, but at the same time it’s not our job here in Congress to decide who the congressman in some state or some district is. I just don’t like the idea of that.”

However, some members of the conference still have reservations about expelling a member before he or she have been convicted of a felony.

Conservative GOP Rep. Ralph Norman told CNN that he is “absolutely not,” planning to vote to expel Santos. “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.

He added that he doesn’t believe they can get the votes to do expel Santos, despite some members insisting that they will. “I don’t think they can get the 270-some votes to do it. If they do, then we’ll see.”

Indiana Rep. Victoria Spartz, another House Republican, said that she is “not sure yet” how she will vote, because Santos has not been convicted of a crime, and she has concerns with how the House Ethics Committee handled their investigation. “I’m not sure yet. I’m going to go through the report, because this should be very – he didn’t go through the court system yet, it should be very rare circumstances [where] something like that [is] done, so I’m going to see,” she said.

“There is some, even [the] committee chair said that they went to some kind of like expedited process, which I don’t like that, so I’m going to look at it seriously, because I think we’ll set a very serious precedent then,” Spartz added. “I have great belief in due process, and sometimes I even defend opinions that are very difficult for me to defend.”

CNN’s Haley Talbot, Melanie Zanona and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

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