Sunday, July 14, 2024

Only 5 House members have ever been expelled. Here’s who they were.

Only 5 House members have ever been expelled. Here’s who they were.


It’s one of Washington’s most exclusive clubs, with only five members.

It includes a onetime county sheriff notorious for made-for-CSPAN rants and a 2002 federal conviction on corruption charges. Another member joined after the FBI caught him in an infamous sting operation. Three others were disqualified for supporting the Confederacy.

While the list of rogues, rascals and reprobates who have served in the House of Representatives is lengthy, the chamber has used its constitutionally granted power to throw out members only five times in its 234-year history.

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) faces calls for his expulsion after numerous reports that he fabricated his resume and biography. On Thursday, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution to kick him out of Congress. Campaign spending watchdogs are raising questions about expenditures. New York Republicans and New York City Mayor Eric Adams want him to resign.

Santos says he has no intention of stepping down, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he is waiting for a recommendation from the House Ethics Committee before taking any disciplinary action. Santos has resigned from the two committees to which he had been assigned.

But there’s good news for Santos: The Constitution sets a high bar for booting a member, requiring a two-thirds vote in favor of expulsion. The last time it happened, in 2002, the vote was 420-1.

Also, all five expelled members of Congress were Democrats. Here’s who they were:

Clark was in his third term in Congress when he was expelled in July 1861 after Rep. Francis Preston Blair (R-Mo.) declared “it is perfectly well known” that Clark was serving in the rebel State Guard of Missouri. “His district is loyal to the Government of the United States and ought to have a loyal Representative on this floor,” Blair told the House.

Some members argued the House was moving too hastily. Rep. John W. Reid (D-Mo.) said he had heard rumors about Clark “but I have never seen the fact officially stated anywhere.” Rep. Henry C. Burnett (D-Ky.) compared the House’s proceedings to England’s infamous Star Chamber.

Despite their objections, the House voted to expel Clark.

John W. Reid (D-Mo.) and Henry C. Burnett (D-Ky.)

Perhaps their solicitous regard for Clark wasn’t too surprising. Five months after cautioning against haste in his case, Reid and Burnett were expelled in December 1861 for disloyalty. The Congressional Biographical Directory says Burnett was a colonel in a Confederate regiment and served in the Confederate Congress, while Reid was a volunteer aide to Confederate Gen. Sterling Price.

Michael J. “Ozzie” Myers (D-Pa.)

The first member of the House to be expelled on corruption charges, Myers was voted out 376-30 on Oct. 2, 1980. Myers was one of several lawmakers implicated in the FBI’s ABSCAM sting operation and was found guilty on Aug. 30, 1980, of taking a $50,000 bribe. Despite his conviction and expulsion, Myers sought reelection, but he was defeated.

The key piece of evidence was a videotape of Myers meeting an FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik in a motel room at Kennedy International Airport in New York. Myers insisted he was “playacting” when he took the money, but the jury wasn’t convinced. “In the end,” The Washington Post’s Charles Babcock reported, “the young congressman couldn’t explain away the videotapes.”

James A. Traficant (D-Ohio)

The House voted overwhelmingly to expel the former Mahoning County sheriff on July 24, 2002, three months after a federal jury in Cleveland convicted Traficant on 10 counts of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. During the trial, which Bob Dart of Cox News Service described as “part Sopranos and part Three Stooges,” Traficant drew a lecture from the presiding judge after saying his prosecutors had “the testicles of an ant.”

Traficant chose to represent himself. It was a risky strategy, but it had worked for him before. In 1983, facing another federal trial on corruption charges while sheriff, he acted as his own lawyer — and won. A year later, he was elected to Congress.

Bizarre rhetorical flourishes were Traficant’s specialty. Dubbed “the House’s Unofficial King of the Surrealistic One-Minute Speech” by The Post’s Peter Carlson and Margaret Smith, Traficant called the Internal Revenue Service the “Internal Rectal Service” and often closed with a phrase borrowed from Star Trek: “Beam me up!”

Traficant served seven years in prison and then ran again for his old seat — unsuccessfully.

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