Newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is facing a three-pronged test in his first full week as the House’s top lawmaker as members of both parties look to take disciplinary action against their political opponents.
The three resolutions up for a vote this week — on expelling Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) and censuring Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — will put a spotlight on Johnson’s ability to manage the fractious GOP conference and steer the entire chamber after a blistering three-week fight that ended with him clinching the gavel.
Johnson’s predicament is not one of his own making. Lawmakers moved to force votes on the expulsion and censure resolutions last week, giving leadership no choice but to act on the measures within two legislative days.
That timetable could come to a head as early as Wednesday, when the House reconvenes, putting Johnson on the spot as he decides how to proceed with the trio of resolutions.
Santos is facing a vote on his expulsion days after he was arraigned on 10 federal charges of fraudulently inflating his campaign finance reports and charging his donors’ credit cards without authorization, bringing his total number of charges to 23. He has pleaded not guilty.
Greene moved to censure Tlaib, the first woman of Palestinian descent to serve in Congress, accusing her of “antisemitic activity” and “sympathizing with terrorist organizations.” And in a tit-for-tat move, Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) filed a resolution to censure Greene that lists roughly 40 controversial comments the firebrand congresswoman has made in the past.
Johnson has three options for each resolution. He can bring the measures themselves up for a vote — majority support is needed to adopt the censure resolutions, and a two-thirds vote is needed for the expulsion measure — or he could move to send the measures to committee or table them, effectively killing the resolutions.
The Speaker has not revealed his plans.
“We’ve got a lot of discussions this week, we’ll see what happens,” Johnson told reporters Monday when asked if he will allow the disciplinary measures to come to the floor for a vote, and if he is trying to talk any lawmakers off the ledge with their resolutions.
Another attempt at expelling Santos
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) arrives for a House Republican Conference meeting on Wednesday, September 20, 2023 to discuss the FY 2024 budget.
By far the most consequential of the three measures is a resolution to expel Santos, the freshman lawmaker who is facing mounting legal trouble. He is set to go to trial in September 2024.
A group of New York Republicans moved to force a vote on Santos’s ouster last week, setting the stage for the chamber to weigh in on his expulsion for the second time this year.
In May, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) motioned to refer a Democratic-led Santos expulsion resolution to the Ethics Committee, which was successful. The outcome, however, was largely regarded as useless because the panel had been investigating the congressman for months.
Johnson is faced with the same decision.
Asked Monday what his plans are for the resolution, Johnson replied, “We’ll see.” But during an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week, the new Speaker suggested he would move to avoid a vote on the resolution.
“George Santos is due due process, right,” he said. “My understanding is I think he’s appearing in a federal court tomorrow. And we have to allow due process to play itself out. That’s what our system of justice is for. He’s not convicted, he’s charged. And so if we’re gonna expel people from Congress just because they’re charged with a crime, then — you know, or accused — that’s a problem.”
Santos’s continued service in the House represents a double-edged sword of sorts for Johnson, as it did for McCarthy when he was Speaker.
On one hand, the embattled congressman has been a constant thorn in the side of leadership, with top lawmakers having to respond to every twist of Santos’s legal saga. But on the other hand, Santos has provided the House GOP conference with a reliable vote in their slim majority, and he has helped the group deliver key legislative wins throughout this Congress.
House Republicans currently have a four-seat majority in the chamber; if Santos is expelled, that would shrink to a three-person edge.
“Here’s the reality, Sean, we have a four-seat majority in the House,” Johnson said. “It is possible that that number may be reduced even more in the coming weeks and months. And so we’ll have what may be the most razor-thin majority in the history of the Congress. We have no margin for error.”
Even if Johnson does move to table or refer the Santos resolution to a committee — which would shield lawmakers from having to weigh in on the matter directly — the effort could be defeated.
The bloc of New York Republicans suggested they would vote against delaying a vote on the resolution, a sign that the GOP conference will not remain united as it did in May. With Democrats expected to vote against any stall tactics, the GOP support could be enough to defeat them.
“I don’t think a motion to table, if there is one, will be successful,” Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the resolution, told reporters last week.
“I think that there is an opportunity for it to pass,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, the lead sponsor, said of the resolution during an interview on NewsNation’s “The Hill” on Monday.
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said the recent guilty plea from Nancy Marks, Santos’s former campaign treasurer, could move some of his colleagues. Marks pleaded guilty to conspiring with the then-candidate to fraudulently inflate his campaign finance reports.
Lawler said Marks’s guilty plea has confirmed “significant details,” later saying “you have now a conviction in this case that very clearly lays out what he did and how he did it.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters as she arrives to the Capitol for votes (Greg Nash)
Johnson will also have to make a decision on measures to censure Tlaib and Greene — which is fueling a tit-for-tat atmosphere on Capitol Hill.
Greene first moved to force a vote on her resolution to censure Tlaib last week, which includes comments Tlaib made after the surprise attack by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, on Israel earlier this month.
The resolution also accuses Tlaib of “leading an insurrection at the United States Capitol Complex” after a protest in a Capitol office building last month in support of an Israel-Hamas cease-fire that was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. Tlaib, however, was not present at the protest, according to a source familiar with the matter, but she did participate in a separate rally that called for a cease-fire.
The Tlaib vote could be a tricky one for House Democrats who have criticized Tlaib for some of her comments about the Israel-Hamas conflict. They haven’t said how they intend to vote. But the wording of the resolution and the animosity many of them have toward Greene may also factor into their decisions.
Tlaib said the measure was an “unhinged resolution” and “deeply Islamophobic and attacks peaceful Jewish anti-war advocates.”
Shortly after Greene filed her resolution, Balint moved to force a vote on censuring the Georgia Republican, fast-tracking her measure that includes controversial remarks Greene made in the past — some even before coming to Congress — with the most recent being her presentation at a House hearing that included nude images of Hunter Biden.
Balint suggested that she was forcing a vote on her resolution penalizing Greene as a response to the Georgia Republican’s move on the Tlaib measure — while, at the same time, knocking Johnson.
“The fact that on the very first day of his leadership, he lets Marjorie Taylor Greene bring to the floor a resolution that is riddled with lies and falsehoods on my colleague, it won’t stand,” she told reporters. “This woman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, it seems to be her only purpose is to sic Americans after other Americans, to fan more hatred, to fan more dissension and fear-mongering, and we have got to have a bottom here.”