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Can Senator Josh Hawley be recalled?

Thousands are petitioning for his removal after the unrest at the United States Capitol

ST. LOUIS — An online petition declared Missouri Senator Josh Hawley "needs to be removed from office," and thousands signed on in agreement.

This follows a chaotic scene at the United States Capitol the same day Hawley led the effort in the Senate to reject Joe Biden's electoral victory, due to unsubstantiated claims of election insecurity. 

The petition was taken off MoveOn.org without explanation by Thursday evening, but only after it gained more than 20,000 signatures. That makes it about as consequential, legally speaking, as if it was still available, says St. Louis University Law professor Anders Walker.

“A United States senator cannot be recalled. Only a vote in the Senate to expel a senator can remove an acting senator,” he said. “If people want to get rid of Senator Hawley, they're going to have to vote in 2024,” he said—when the first-term junior senator is up for re-election.

The process of expelling a sitting senator is rare, not even brought to a vote for more than 80 years. Three-fourths of senators have to agree to kick out one of their own, and that hasn't happened since the Civil War. Even with a Democratic majority, Hawley's expulsion would require half of his Republican colleagues to go against him.

“My guess is that we're not going to see anything happened in the Senate,” said Walker.

Another option would be a Senate censure, which is essentially a formal reprimanding and a record of disproval. That doesn’t come with any actual consequences, though, and Walker guesses even that’s unlikely.

“People need to remember that Josh Hawley is a very smart guy, and he clearly is counting votes and thinks that he has a pathway forward by taking this course of action.”

That’s also why Anders and other political experts believe other online petitions calling for him to resign likely won't amount to much, either.

“He is clearly positioning himself, not only to be re-elected to the Senate but maybe the White House in 2024,” said Walker.