House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday expressed “real reservations” about a motion to expel embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) and said that lawmakers would be free to “vote their conscience” during a floor vote that could come as soon as Thursday.

“We’ve not whipped the vote, and we wouldn’t,” Johnson told reporters. “I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this. I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”

Johnson said that GOP lawmakers had shared opinions “on both sides” regarding expelling Santos during a Republican conference meeting earlier Wednesday. Santos survived two previous expulsion efforts. The latest follows a scathing report from the House Ethics Committee that found “substantial evidence” that the freshman lawmaker knowingly violated ethics guidelines, House rules and criminal laws.

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) on Nov. 28 asserted on the House floor that his potential expulsion would set a “dangerous precedent.” (Video: The Washington Post)

Expulsion from the House requires a two-thirds vote by members. Since the release of the report, numerous lawmakers who voted against expelling Santos earlier this month publicly stated that they now would support a motion to kick him out of Congress.

Last week, in a conversation held on X Spaces, Santos predicted he did not have enough support to stay in Congress.

“I know I’m going to get expelled when this expulsion resolution goes to the floor,” Santos said on the site. “I’ve done the math over and over, and it doesn’t look really good.”

If removed by the House, Santos would be only the sixth lawmaker to be expelled from the House in its history — and the first lawmaker to be removed in such a manner in modern times without having been convicted of a crime.

“There are people who say you have to uphold the rule of law and allow for someone to be convicted in a criminal court before this tough penalty would be exacted on someone,” Johnson said Wednesday. “There are others who say, well, upholding the rule of law requires us to take this step now, because of some of the things that he’s alleged to have done.”

Johnson said that allowing lawmakers to vote their consciences was “the only appropriate thing” GOP leadership could do.

11 of the most scathing allegations in the House ethics report about Santos

It was a fellow Republican, House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest (Miss.), who introduced the motion to expel Santos that will be considered Thursday. Guest filed the motion before lawmakers left for a Thanksgiving break. On Tuesday night, another Republican, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.), motioned to move Guest’s resolution under privilege, meaning it would have to be considered within 48 hours.

By filing the expulsion motion himself, Guest added credibility to the resolution after lawmakers were hesitant earlier this month about voting to expel Santos when the question was brought forth by fellow New York Republicans. That effort failed, with 182 Republicans and 31 Democrats voting against it, fearing that it would establish a precedent to oust lawmakers without due process.

On Wednesday, Democrats said their position on Santos has not changed. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said that while Democrats find no “joy” in voting to expulse Santos, “we feel that this is the appropriate remedy to deal with the serial fraudster that is George Santos.”

“I think this is all just performative on the side of the Republicans,” Aguilar added. “They are trying to afford George Santos every opportunity to do the right thing and to resign. … But George Santos has only been allowed to stay a member of Congress because of the thin majority. Do you think for any minute, if Republicans had a 25-seat majority, they would care about George Santos?”

On Wednesday, some Republicans said they refused to support the effort to remove Santos.

Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.) told reporters outside the Capitol that while he has “no clue” how his other colleagues feel about the motion to expel, he said he thinks the effort is “not very wise” at this point, noting that Republicans “have a four-seat majority.”

A defiant Santos has long denied wrongdoing and continued to insist that he would not resign. Santos told reporters Tuesday that he had spoken with Johnson over the weekend but that the House speaker had not encouraged him to resign.

“All these members are pushing this. They want me to resign because they don’t want to take this tough vote that sets the precedent to their own demise in the future. Because they’re not immune from all the nonsense that goes on in Washington,” Santos said. “My message to them is either put out or shut up, and enough of this charade.”

In a lengthy speech delivered on the House floor on Tuesday night, Santos criticized the Ethics Committee report, saying it was “littered with hyperbole.”

“I think we can all agree that due process matters, and that we should all be very concerned about the way that we are conducting this process,” he said. “I ask that all my colleagues in the House consider and understand what this means for the future.”

The Ethics Committee report, which was published Nov. 16, accused Santos of wrongdoing including stealing money from his campaign, deceiving donors about how contributions would be used, creating fictitious loans and engaging in fraudulent business dealings. Santos, the report alleged, repeatedly used funds intended for his campaign for personal enrichment, including for spa charges and paying down his own credit card debt.

The long-awaited report laid out the conclusions of the committee’s months-long investigation in scathing language. According to the committee, investigators compiled more than 170,000 pages of documents, including financial statements, and testimony from dozens of witnesses to reach its conclusions.

“Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit. He blatantly stole from his campaign. He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit,” the report stated.

The New York Republican also faces 23 federal charges, including fraud, money laundering, falsifying records and aggravated identity theft.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

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