Cawthorn’s expulsion would have to take a path that’s rarely used

A chorus of calls for the expulsion from Congress of 11th District U.S. Congressman Madison Cawthorn, R-Hendersonville, has arisen in the wake of this weekend’s report in Rolling Stone that Cawthorn and six other GOP Representatives – Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Louie Gohmert (Texas) Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) – allegedly coordinated with the Jan. 6 rioters prior to the assault on Congress during the certification of Joe Biden’s 2000 election victory.

The report didn’t establish direct ties to the violence of the day.

Still, in an era where once-hypothetical questions seem to push close to reality every day, it’s worth asking if Cawthorn’s tenure is in peril.

This isn’t the first time Cawthorn has faced such a call.

In January, following the riot, NC-11 Democratic Party District leaders said his expulsion was necessary under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which reads, “No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

That last line – two-thirds vote – likely means Cawthorn has nothing to worry about in the politically polarized Congress of 2021.

Expulsions have been rare over the history of the country, but they have happened. The first instance was the expulsion of Democratic-Republican Sen. William Blount of Tennessee in 1797 for treason and conspiracy to incite a rebellion of Cherokee and Creek Indians to help the British conquer West Florida, then under Spanish control.

In 1861 a slew of Senators and Congressmen, all Democrats, were expelled after President Lincoln’s election and the subsequent secession of Southern states. Among them were North Carolina’s U.S. Senators, Thomas Clingman and Thomas Bragg.

After that it was all quiet on the expulsion front until 1980, when Pa. Democratic Rep. Michael Myers was expelled following a bribery conviction in the Abscam scandal. In 2002 Ohio Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant was convicted on charges including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion and expelled. (He tried twice to regain his seat, including a run from prison).

Earlier this year Rep. Jimmy Gonzalez, D-Calif., fielded a resolution to expel Rep. Greene of Georgia for being complicit in planning and inciting the storming of the Capitol. More than 70 Democrats backed that resolution, but it didn’t gain the backing of Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

And now, in Cawthorn’s case, the expulsion calls have arisen again.

A statement from Cawthorn’s office described the Rolling Stone account as “complete garbage.”

Cawthorn faces a host of challengers headed into the 2022 primary, including from some in his own party.

One potential Democratic challenger, Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine-Beach-Ferrara, issued a press release in the wake of the Rolling Stone article saying, “If this report is true, Madison Cawthorn should be expelled from Congress… I’ve already called on Madison Cawthorn to resign but since he won’t, he should be expelled.”

Chris Cooper, the Robert Lee Madison Distinguished Professor and Director of WCU’s Public Policy Institute, said expulsion “happens, but it’s rare. The process begins when someone drafts a resolution to expel. It is then referred to the House Committee on Ethics. The committee would then conduct an investigation and take a vote. If they recommend expulsion, the resolution would then go to the House floor where they would need a two-thirds vote of the full House of Representatives; there is no need for Senate buy-in. At that point, the Governor could call for a special election to replace Cawthorn.”

Cawthorn’s predecessor in the 11th District, Mark Meadows, who served as former President Trump’s chief of staff, has been subpoenaed by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot.

This article originally appeared in the Sylva Herald.

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