Following her comments comparing COVID-19 safety to the Holocaust, a petition calling for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s expulsion from the House has gathered over 100,000 signatures. Greene, a Republican from Georgia’s 14th congressional district, has been chastised by members of his own party, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Both the House and Senate have the authority to expel a member, but this power is rarely used, with Congress instead preferring censure or reprimand. According to Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and expel a Member with the Concurrence of two-thirds.”
Because the Constitution does not go into further detail, disciplinary measures have been guided by historical precedent. The Congressional Research Service published a report in 2018 that discussed the history of expulsion and highlighted the reasons why members were removed from Congress.
“In total, 20 Members of Congress have been expelled from their respective bodies—5 in the House and 15 in the Senate,” according to the CRS. Seventeen of those expulsions, including three in the House, occurred in 1861-62 and were related to Confederate support.
“While the grounds for these expulsions may illustrate the potential grounds on which the House or Senate may decide to expel a Member, they are not necessarily the exclusive grounds for expulsion.” “The grounds on which the power may be exercised are left to the discretion of the respective bodies of Congress, though legal commentary indicates that the bodies should exercise that power judiciously,” the report stated.
The process of expulsion begins with a House resolution, which may direct a House committee to investigate the matter. The House Committee on Ethics, formerly known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is usually in charge of this. A previous resolution to expel Greene, introduced in March by California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez, failed in the House.
“A resolution of expulsion must be supported by two-thirds of those present and voting. A majority vote on an amendment proposing expulsion is required; however, a two-thirds vote is required on the proposition as amended “according to a report from the United States Government Publishing Office
If directed to investigate, the Ethics Committee may request information about the alleged misconduct from members of the House or conduct an investigation before making a recommendation.
However, given the two-thirds requirement, it appears extremely unlikely that Greene will be expelled even if the Ethics Committee considers the matter. According to Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London’s Center on US Politics, Republican votes to remove her will not be forthcoming. “The chances of Republicans expelling Marjorie Taylor Greene from their party’s conference are nearly nil,” Gift said.
“There’s no doubt that many Republicans regard her as a liability.” Others, particularly Trump supporters, have been all too willing to turn a blind eye or even cheer her on as she spouts unhinged conspiracy theories and other unconscionable opinions. If the Trump years have taught us anything, it’s that most Republican lawmakers are too afraid to enforce discipline within their ranks. A two-thirds vote…seems far too high for Republicans to overcome.”
There are currently 219 Democrats and 211 Republicans in the House, with five seats vacant. In the unlikely event that Greene is expelled, she will be able to run in the ensuing special election, and Georgia’s 14th congressional district is reliably Republican.
The last expulsion of a House member occurred in 2002, when Ohio Democrat James Traficant was removed by a vote of 420 to 1. He was found guilty on ten felony counts, including racketeering and bribery.