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George Santos to face expulsion vote on Thursday, House speaker says

<span>Photograph: John Minchillo/AP</span>
Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

The Republican speaker of the US House, Mike Johnson, said the chamber would vote on whether to expel George Santos on Thursday, leaving it up to lawmakers to decide whether the New Yorker should be removed from office for embellishing his résumé and allegedly breaking federal law.

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“What we’ve said as the leadership team is we’re going to allow people to vote their conscience,” Johnson told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

“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.

“I personally have real reservations about doing this, I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that. So, everybody’s working through that and we’ll see how they vote tomorrow.”

On Tuesday, Santos said he would not resign in order to avoid becoming only the sixth representative ever expelled from the House.

“If I resign, I make it easy for this place,” Santos, 35, told reporters. “This place is run on hypocrisy. I’m done playing a part for the circus. If they want me to leave Congress, they’re going to have to take that tough vote.”

But that tough vote was already drawing near.

Earlier, two Democrats, Robert Garcia of California and Dan Goldman of New York, initiated proceedings to require an expulsion vote within two legislative days. Later, two Republicans, Anthony D’Esposito of New York and Michael Guest of Mississippi, did the same.

“We want to make sure that happens this week,” Garcia said. “I think whatever it takes to get that vote this week is what we’re doing. He has no place in Congress.”

The list of previous expellees includes three men who fought for the Confederacy in the civil war and two convicted of crimes. The last man forced out, James A Traficant of Ohio, a congressman with a famous “piled-high pompadour” toupée who was convicted of fraud, bribery, obstruction of justice and racketeering, was expelled in 2002.

On Thursday, a two-thirds majority will be required to add Santos to the list of shame.

Santos was elected last year but quickly saw his résumé torn to pieces by investigative reporting and past actions subjected to legal scrutiny. He admitted embellishing that résumé – which included bizarre claims about his academic and professional history – but denied wrongdoing. Among more picaresque episodes, he denied having been a drag performer in Brazil – a denial now undermined by reporters including the author of a new biography.

Santos has pleaded not guilty to 23 federal fraud charges but has not yet stood trial. As indicated by Johnson on Wednesday, many in Congress, including senior Democrats, have cited the lack of a conviction when opposing previous attempts to expel Santos, saying to do so without the verdict of a court would set a dangerous precedent.

Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat in the closely divided Senate, is under indictment for alleged corruption. He denies wrongdoing.

Related: The Fabulist review: timely tale of the rise and fall of George Santos

In Santos’s case, his own party generated a previous attempt to expel him. But it took a damning House ethics committee report, issued this month and detailing the use of campaign funds for expenses including Botox treatment and luxury purchases, to change the political equation.

Johnson must govern with a narrow and unruly majority. A Santos exit would eat into that margin but Johnson this week attempted to persuade Santos to quit before he could be thrown out.

Santos has said he will not run again but his refusal to quit prompted an unnamed Republican to tell Axios he thought Santos wanted the “notoriety” of becoming the sixth person ever forcibly expelled.

If Santos is removed, his New York district, which covers parts of Long Island and Queens, will have a special election within 90 days.