WASHINGTON — Divided government is common and often messy. But the current U.S. House of Representatives has had arguably the most tumultuous year in modern times.
The Republican-led chamber began the year requiring 15 ballots to elect a speaker, the most since 1860. Nine months later, it became the first House in U.S. history to overthrow the speaker midsession, causing an unprecedented 21-day period of limbo that felled three nominees before the party settled on a little-known congressman.
And on Friday, the House entered its final month of 2023 by taking the extraordinary step of expelling one of its own members, now-former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., for just the third time since the Civil War, after he fabricated much of his biography and as he faces a 23-count federal indictment for a smorgasbord of alleged crimes. (He has pleaded not guilty).
It was the latest in a series of unfortunate distinctions for the 116th Congress, which has elevated rancor and chaos to levels unseen in generations. One reason for that is the GOP’s narrow majority, which was cut from four votes to three on Friday.
Santos responded to the historic vote by bolting through the Capitol doors and taunting his colleagues, saying they “just set a new, dangerous precedent” that could bite them, before driving off. Many of his colleagues were unimpressed.
“Nobody takes any joy in this. This is obviously a somewhat historic moment — unprecedented. And that is the election of George Santos, in a nutshell,” said Rep. Mike Lawler, one of the New York Republicans who led the effort to oust Santos. “I fundamentally believe he’s unfit to serve public office, whether it’s dogcatcher in his local community or here in the halls of Congress.”
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., a fellow Long Islander and one of 105 Republicans who voted for expulsion, said Santos deserved it for lying his way into Congress and defrauding his constituents.
“Unfortunately, they voted for someone who — they didn’t even know who it was. It may as well have been a Disney character, because it wasn’t a real person,” D’Esposito said.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said Santos was merely taking his cues from the leader of the Republican Party, the former president and 2024 primary front-runner Donald Trump.
“Where did George Santos get the idea that you could lie, cheat, steal, corrupt your office and still succeed in the Republican Party? Where does that come from? It comes from the top, because it’s Donald Trump who has set that standard of corruption for the GOP,” Raskin said on the Capitol steps after the vote.
And the whirlwind could persist into next week as the House GOP considers a vote to approve an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., unilaterally launched the inquiry before he was evicted from the speaker’s office, but a vote would give it more heft.
Raskin said an impeachment inquiry into Biden has no merit and argued that Republicans are only pursuing it because they have no governing agenda for the country.
“Their party, again today with George Santos, is in disgrace,” he said. “They didn’t even have a speaker for three or four weeks. They’re in complete chaos, and they are in a cannibalistic mood, and now they decide they want to impeach Joe Biden.”
Along the way, Congress has passed few major pieces of legislation this year. Amid disagreements between the House and the Democratic-led Senate, the legislative branch has struggled at times to keep the government functioning, narrowly avoiding a self-inflicted debt default and twice averting government shutdowns.
The House GOP has passed various party-line bills, on matters ranging from education to immigration, which are going nowhere in the Senate. And the upper chamber, where the Democratic caucus holds a 51-49 majority and needs 60 votes to pass most bills, has had a lethargic year legislatively but a productive one when it comes to confirming Biden’s judicial nominees.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, notably, voted to reject expulsion. As the House left for the weekend Friday afternoon, Johnson, R-La., sent his email list of supporters a questionnaire asking, “How do you think we’re doing?”
“The year has gone by in a flash, and much has changed, including my role as your new Speaker,” he wrote. “But one thing remains the same … we’ve been busy working for YOU every single day since we were sworn into the majority.”