History shows House expulsions are rare -- and Rep. George Santos just joined the list

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

December 1, 2023, 12:43 PM

Before Friday, there were only five times in history that a member of the U.S. House of Representatives had been expelled. Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos just became the the sixth.

Santos became a target for removal 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 claimed he was denied due process. He left the chamber before the final vote tally on his expulsion was announced.

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 Santos was removed in a bipartisan vote, 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."