History shows House expulsions are rare. Will GOP Rep. George Santos join the list?

Only five House members in history have been expelled by their peers.

Video byLilia Geho
November 24, 2023, 5:05 AM

Only five times in history has a member of the U.S. House of Representatives been expelled. Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos is facing another attempt to make him the sixth.

Santos is the target of a new resolution to remove him from office after a scathing House Ethics Committee report containing damning details about how it said he used campaign dollars for his own personal enrichment. Investigators said their monthslong probe of the New York congressman, who is also facing separate federal charges, revealed a "complex web of unlawful activity."

Santos slammed the ethics report as political "smear" and a "grave miscarriage of Justice." He vowed to continue to defend himself, though he did announce he will not seek reelection next year.

A vote on the resolution to expel him is expected when lawmakers return from Thanksgiving recess next week. The last attempt to remove Santos fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed, but some lawmakers who previously voted against expulsion have said they will vote in favor in light of the House ethics report.

PHOTO: Republican Representative from New York George Santos arrives for a GOP caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 16, 2023.
Republican Representative from New York George Santos arrives for a GOP caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 16, 2023.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

While this is the third attempt to oust Santos, expulsions in the House are historically few and far between. Including the Senate, just 20 lawmakers have ever been removed from Congress.

"There's 11,000 people who've served in the House of Representatives since the beginning and 2,000 in the Senate. So, that's a huge body of people. If you look at it in those terms, expulsions are rare," said former U.S. House historian Ray Smock.

The last time a U.S. representative was expelled was in 2002, when the House voted 420 to one to force out Ohio Democrat James Traficant. Traficant served in Congress for two decades before he was ousted after being convicted in federal court on a slew of charges, including bribery, conspiracy and income tax evasion.

Traficant was defiant as he argued his self-defense on the House floor during debate of his expulsion.

"No American should fear their government. This guy doesn't," he said, pointing to himself.

The second most recent expulsion was in 1980, when lawmakers removed Pennsylvania Democrat Michael Myers. Myers served four years before he was expelled in a 376 to 30 vote after taking $50,00 from an undercover FBI agent as a part of its ABSCAM investigation, which involved agents posing as Arab sheiks to target public corruption and organized crime.

Like Traficant, Myers was convicted in federal court before his expulsion.

PHOTO: History of House Expulsions
History of House Expulsions
ABC News, Congressional Research Service

Myers was the first member of Congress expelled since the Civil War era.

The other three House expulsions all came in 1861. John Clark of Missouri, John Reid of Missouri and Henry Burnett of Kentucky were all deemed disloyal to the Union for engaging with the Confederacy during the war.

Santos' situation is unique, Smock noted, partly because he has not yet been convicted of a crime.

Santos has pleaded not guilty to the 23 charges brought against him in New York. A trial is set for 2024.

"The Constitution does not say that you can expel a member only after he's been indicted … The Constitution simply says a two-thirds vote is what's necessary," Smock said. "The House is the judge of its own members, and the Constitution is clear on that."