How to get expelled from Congress: Yahoo News Explains

Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the surfacing of numerous questionable social media posts by freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., there’s been a lot of talk about potential actions to remove certain members from the House and Senate. However, expelling a lawmaker is easier said than done. Yahoo News explains the different ways congressional seats can be vacated before the end of a term — and why it happens so infrequently.

Video Transcript


SAM MATTHEWS: So following the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, which some allege was incited, at least in part, by certain sitting members of Congress, and some questionable videos that have resurfaced--

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: You know, if school-- if school zones were protected by-- with security guards with guns, there would be no mass shootings at schools. Do you know that?

SAM MATTHEWS: There's been a lot of talk about removing members from the House and Senate.

SEAN HANNITY: Congresswoman Cori Bush is now calling for the expulsion of Republican lawmakers, claiming they quote, "incited" this domestic terrorist attack.

- And the thinking here is that those GOP representatives maybe emboldened and excited the crowds that were at the Capitol, rioting, of course, that cost five people their lives.

MEHDI HASAN: You and your brother have reached out to Democratic Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva asking him to expel Paul Gosar from Congress after last week's attack.

- North Carolina Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling for his expulsion from the House.

- The representative to Georgia's 14th Congressional district may face a measure looking to expel her from the House.

SAM MATTHEWS: But making someone leave is easier said than done. There are really only three ways for a seat in Congress to be vacated before the end of a term-- death, resignation, and expulsion. The first two are by far the most common. Believe it or not, hundreds of congressmen have died in office. It's never a good thing and not really germane to this particular issue, so we hope they all rest in peace.

Resignations do happen and pretty regularly. However, most of the time, it's because the member is taking on a new role in the government, like, say, becoming the vice president. Some have also resigned due to health problems or left so that their successor could be appointed early.

Others have just decided they didn't want to be in Congress anymore-- like in 2007 when South Carolina Senator Trent Lott resigned to open up a lobbying firm. In terms of resignations, it's relatively rare for it to happen in the face of public scrutiny or investigation. But it happens, just ask former Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

AL FRANKEN: I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.

SAM MATTHEWS: So that brings us to expelling someone from Congress. Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2 of the US Constitution states that, "Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of 2/3, expel a member." That means that in order to remove a member, whichever chamber they are part of needs to vote on it by a 2/3 majority. It's only happened 20 times in the last 245 years.

And all but three of those had to do with their support of the Confederacy in the Civil War. In the last 20 years, it's only happened once, in 2002. Ohio Representative James Traficant was expelled after being convicted of bribery, tax evasion, and racketeering.

But what's perhaps more interesting than how rarely expulsion happens is how often it doesn't. While some members of Congress have certainly chosen to resign rather than face being expelled, others have refused and ended up keeping their seats. In 1942, Senator William Langer evaded expulsion stemming from corruption charges during his time as governor of North Dakota by a 52 to 30 vote against it.

Massachusetts Representative Thomas Lane served a four-month prison sentence for tax evasion in the middle of his 22-year tenure in the House of Representatives and didn't face expulsion at all. Short of expelling a member, Congress can also vote by a simple majority to censure them, which is a public condemnation of their actions. And party leadership can remove them from committees.

ANDY LEVIN: It's up to the party that that person is a member of whether they get assignments to committees, and if so, what committees.

SAM MATTHEWS: However, when it comes to actually kicking them out, the bar is extremely high. And even though the calls for representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene to be expelled may be loud, the public doesn't really have a formal say. There are no recall elections in Congress. And it's highly unlikely that an expulsion vote would cross that 2/3 s