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House Speaker Mike Johnson has "reservations" about expelling George Santos, says members should "vote their conscience"

George Santos says he's not resigning
Rep. George Santos says he's not resigning, writing could be on the wall for expulsion 06:08

Washington — Republican leaders are not pressuring their members to vote one way or the other on expelling embattled GOP Rep. George Santos, according to House Speaker Mike Johnson, who said Wednesday that he has some "reservations" about ousting the New York Republican. 

"We're going to allow people to vote their conscience," Johnson said during the Republican leadership's weekly news conference. "I think it's the only appropriate thing we can do. We've not whipped the vote, and we wouldn't. I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith." 

The deadline for the lower chamber to act on two measures calling for his ouster is technically Thursday, but Johnson said later in the day that he thought a vote might slip to Friday. The speaker can postpone some votes for up to two legislative days under the House rules. 

The Santos expulsion resolutions

On Tuesday, Rep. Robert Garcia of California introduced a "privileged" resolution to expel Santos after a scathing report from the House Ethics Committee earlier this month said there was "substantial evidence" that he repeatedly broke the law. 

Later in the day, Republican Rep. Anthony D'Esposito of New York moved to force a vote on a separate resolution by making it privileged as well. That resolution was introduced by Republican Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi before the Thanksgiving break. 

The Ethics Committee report alleges Santos stole money from his campaign to pay for his personal expenses, including on Botox and at luxury stores. It also said he reported fictitious loans, decided donors and engaged in fraudulent business dealings. 

Santos is simultaneously facing nearly two dozen federal criminal charges related to many of the allegations detailed in the report. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set to begin in September. 

Johnson said the GOP conference discussed the vote Wednesday morning and "there were opinions shared on both sides." 

"There are people of good faith who make an argument, both pro and con, for the expulsion resolution for Santos," the Louisiana Republican said. "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 would be exacted on someone. That's been the precedent so far. There are others who say, well, upholding the rule of law requires us to take this step now because some of the things that he's alleged to have done, or the House Ethics Committee having done their job, are infractions against the House itself." 

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves a news conference at the Capitol  on Nov. 29, 2023.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves a news conference at the Capitol  on Nov. 29, 2023. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Johnson said he has "real reservations" about expelling Santos. 

"I'm concerned about a precedent that may be set for that," he said. 

This is the House's third attempt to expel Santos this year after two earlier efforts failed to attract the two-thirds majority support required by the Constitution to remove him. 

Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday that Republicans have allowed Santos to remain in Congress because they need his vote. 

"It's unfortunate that we're here," he said during a news conference. "But 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?" 

Santos has rejected repeated calls from both sides of the aisle for his resignation, saying that doing so would be admitting to wrongdoing and that he has not been provided due process. 

"Are we to now assume that one is no longer innocent until proven guilty, and they are in fact guilty until proven innocent?" Santos said Tuesday night. 

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