Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Though the shutdown is now over, anger towards national politicians hasn’t subsided. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last week showed 60 percent of Americans would be willing to fire every member of Congress and start over.
“I think we should have the ability to kick them out, because they’re not doing their job,” said Brooks Evans, of Richfield.
But it turns out it’s not that easy. U.S. senators and representatives cannot be recalled.
“The Constitution doesn’t provide for it,” said University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson. “The only way they can be removed is by a vote of 2/3 of the own chamber and that happens very rarely.”
The process is called expulsion, and it’s only happened to fifteen senators and five representatives. The vast majority of those expelled were supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The most recent expulsion happened in 2002 when former Ohio Rep. James Traficant was removed after several convictions of bribery and racketeering.
“Expulsion is very serious,” Pearson said. “It’s reserved for acts of treason against the United States or after a member of Congress has been convicted of a serious crime.”
Pearson says the framers of the U.S. Constitution chose not to allow members of Congress to be removed during their terms.
“The framers didn’t want individuals to be able to recall members on a whim,” she said. “Members of Congress are elected to represent the people, they’re supposed to be close to the people. Regular elections provide for that, but not so regular that they could be recalled based on a vote that individuals disagree with.”
Presidents cannot be recalled, but can be impeached.
Some states, including Minnesota, allow for recall elections. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, Minnesotans overwhelmingly voted for the ability to recall elected officials in 1996. While some petitions have been circulated, the Secretary of State’s Office says no Minnesota elected officials have ever been recalled.
When Wisconsin voters tried to recall Gov. Scott Walker in 2012, the cost of the election was $13.5 million.
The most recent successful state recall of was two state senators in Colorado earlier this year.