House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) may have a few new lyrics to add to the holiday season staple "The 12 Days of Christmas."
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…
A partridge in a pear tree.
Tuesday was the "first day of Christmas" on Capitol Hill. The House returned to session for the first time since well before Thanksgiving. And as Speaker, Johnson got to light the Capitol Christmas tree – a 63-foot tall Norway spruce from the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia.
So, it wasn’t a pear tree. And there was no partridge to be seen.
There weren’t four calling birds. But the U.S. Capitol Police did arrest four demonstrators who tried to interrupt Johnson during the tree lighting ceremony, shouting "Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!" and unfurled a Palestinian flag.
Unlike the White House Christmas tree, the one at the Capitol managed to stay vertical and didn’t topple over.
Considering the hand Mike Johnson was given, you take the wins where you can get them.
The Capitol press corps searched for Johnson all day long Tuesday with more energy than ten lords a ’leaping to no avail.
Grandma might have gotten run over by a reindeer. But you might get run over by a Congressional reporter if you were looking for Johnson or embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) – facing expulsion.
Be good for goodness sake.
On Tuesday night, three reporters – yours truly included – waited in the Capitol basement along the route we believed Johnson may take to reach the West Front of the Capitol for the Christmas tree ceremony. Johnson spoke with Santos earlier. But Santos contends the Speaker didn’t ask him to step aside.
"Actually he made a point to say that he was not calling me to ask me to resign," said Santos.
But Johnson was even more circumspect when pressed about the status of Santos and efforts to expel him.
"Have you made a decision about how to handle the expulsion of Mr. Santos?" asked yours truly.
"Chad, I’ve got to light a tree, right now. I’ll talk to you later," said Johnson.
Another reporter asked if he believed Santos needed to resign.
"Not commenting," replied Johnson.
In an effort to dare Republicans to oppose expulsion, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) teamed with Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) to engineer a simple resolution to expel Santos.
"Do you think there are the votes to expel him? Would you move to table the Garcia resolution?" I asked.
"Not commenting," repeated Johnson.
Not quite "Silent Night." But close.
There is consternation for Republicans about expelling Santos. Here’s the reason: the House has only expelled five members in history. The House gave three the boot in 1861 because they were Confederate sympathizers. Fast forward to present day. The House only expelled former Rep. Ozzie Myers (D-Pa.) and Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) after they refused to quit following court convictions.
That’s why Johnson – and other lawmakers – are leery of an expulsion, no matter what antics Santos may have pulled to worm his way into Congress. This is why Garcia and Goldman dared Republicans to try to block or table their resolution to expel Santos.
"We’re tired of waiting. We’re tired of the games that the Republicans have played to protect George Santos and their slim majority," said Goldman. "It’s time to put up or shut up."
After finishing the report on the conduct of Santos, House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest (R-Miss.) composed a resolution to also expel Santos – but didn’t put it into play. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) did that for him. Some New York GOP freshmen who represent battleground districts like D’Esposito are worried about the House not expelling Santos. So they have led the charge to rid the House of their Empire State colleague. Especially after the scathing Ethics Committee report.
In fact a number of Republicans who were reluctant to expel Santos grew after the publication of the Ethics Committee investigation. That’s because the report represented a modicum of "due process" for Santos and added details to the host of allegations about his alleged wrongdoing.
But the worst scenario for Republicans is to have a failed vote to impeach Santos.
Failed expulsion votes are even more rare than actual expulsions. There have only been three failed expulsions in House history.
The House failed to kick out Rep. Preston Brooks (D-S.C.) after he nearly caned to death Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol in 1856.
The House also failed to expel Rep. Lovell Rosseau (D-Ky.) after he assaulted Rep. Josiah Grinnell (R-Iowa) in 1866.
The House then failed to remove former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) from the House in 1990 for his connection with a gay, male prostitute.
The bar to expel a House member is high. The requirement is a two-thirds vote of all members casting ballots.
It’s likely that most if not all Democrats would vote to expel.
On the Republican side?
"I think there’ll be 120-150 Republican votes or more," forecast Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.).
Couple that with the Democrats and the House probably expels Santos.
Unless there is a motion to table or block the expulsion resolution.
"If they put a motion to table out, that is a motion to protect George Santos," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). "That is a motion to keep George Santos as a Member of Congress. To protect their thin majority. To protect Speaker Johnson."
When asked if there would be a motion to table, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) indicated the leadership hadn’t decided yet.
But Johnson has anxiety about expelling Santos because of what happened with Myers and Traficant.
"I personally have real reservations about doing this. I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that," said Johnson. "We’re going to allow people to vote their conscience. I think it’s the only appropriate thing we can do. We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t. I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith."
Johnson later ignored a question whether a motion to table the expulsion resolutions allowed members to vote their conscience.
There’s a wide range of views among Republicans whether expulsion is the right thing to do.
"I think George Santos is toast," said Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).
Zinke noted that the Ethics Committee report "gave veracity to the charges."
But other lawmakers weren’t as certain as Zinke.
"I still have some questions about the rights of individuals to have due process. He hasn’t been convicted of anything," said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).
As we say, it’s about the math.
Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) thought it was ridiculous that Republicans might expel one of their own considering the slim majority.
"We have a four-seat majority. You’re reducing our majority by 25 percent. I don’t think that is very smart," said Nehls. "We eat our young."
This is just the start of the Christmas season on Capitol Hill.
God rest ye merry gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay.
There’s plenty of dismay this holiday season in Congress.