Republicans shielded Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. from expulsion with a procedural vote that referred the embattled lawmaker to the House Ethics Committee that’s already investigating him.
Following the various rules and customs involved in Wednesday’s proceedings required a scorecard. In February, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif. introduced H.R. 114, a privileged resolution to expel Santos from the House of Representatives, which can bypass Republican leadership, then forced it to the House floor this week. But Republicans offered a motion to refer the resolution to the House Ethics Committee, effectively killing a vote on actual expulsion, which would require a two-thirds majority.
“We’ve never expelled anyone in the history of the Congress without due process of either the courts or ethics,” Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-N.Y. told Semafor. “We all know where this ends. George Santos won’t be in Congress for long.”
Democrats complained that the vote was a ploy to run out the clock until after the Congress ends in the guise of accountability. The ethics committee typically defers to law enforcement investigations first before launching their own, which in the case of Santos — who faces 13 federal charges from prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York, alleging fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and false statements, as well as other potential investigations — could be a long time.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said he wants his case to proceed “rapidly” and Republicans insist accountability is on the way. “I believe it will be expulsion once ethics finishes its review if the report merits it,” one GOP source told Semafor.
In the end, the House voted 221 to 204 to refer Santos to the House Ethics Committee. As is common practice, five Democrats on the House Ethics Committee voted present — Democrats grumbled that their Republican counterparts did not do the same this time. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa. and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash. also voted present.
The View From George Santos
Santos took questions briefly outside the Capitol and defended the House procedural vote, which he voted for.
“In this country, everybody is innocent until proven guilty. You cannot behave as judge and jury in this procedure. I thank leadership for allowing this procedure,” he said, adding “if the ethics committee finds a reason to remove me, that is the process.”
He then abruptly left after two fellow New York members, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, yelled throughout his press conference.
“Have some dignity!” Bowman shouted, followed by “New Yorkers need better!”
All of the complicated one-upmanship around Wednesday’s vote reflects the precarious situation facing Long Island Republicans, whose big upset wins in 2022 were key to putting Republicans in the majority.
Much of the New York Republican delegation has already called for Santos to resign — and many did so months ago, well before the latest charges. Nobody is looking forward to campaign ads tying them to his circus of high-profile ethical and legal issues.
But McCarthy still needs to pass a debt limit bill — and potentially survive a vote to remain as speaker along the way — and it doesn’t make sense to let him go with a five-seat majority. At this point, Santos still commands just enough power for his Republican colleagues to just look the other way.
Republicans aren’t eager to give Democrats a win either, and many sincerely object to expulsion on substantive grounds — it’s barely ever been used by Congress in modern times.
In a sign of the pressure facing New York’s freshmen class, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y. told Semafor he supported removing Santos — and yet still voted against the Democrats’ resolution.
“I believe he should be expelled,” he said. “But having this come to the floor to cast a vote, and him not getting expelled, I believe this is the next best thing and this is what’s going to make him rid the stain of George Santos from this institution.”
That’s not to say Republicans won’t do anything. Hear me out.
In 2009, Republicans in the minority tried to remove New York Rep. Charlie Rangel as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee repeatedly, and failed, while he faced a lengthy ethics investigation. The next year, Democrats censured Rangel after he was found guilty of 11 ethics violations.
It’s easy to see Republicans finding some way to demonstrate they’re cutting Santos loose when his vote is no longer as needed, 2024 elections are closer, and the various investigations into him are perhaps further along. If it’s not expulsion — which is still possible — there are other options.
Room for Disagreement
Democrats are confident they can make their point stick, even as Republicans look to insulate themselves from the Santos fallout.
“Santos misled voters about nearly every aspect of his life — and today, House Republicans defended his con against his constituents,” Rep. Suzan DelBene, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Americans will remember that their representative voted the party line rather than for the people.”
The View From A former Santos aide
In typical Santos fashion, there were multiple dramas surrounding him at the same time. His communications director Naysa Woomer resigned after a conservative sting operation surfaced a video of her saying “he’s not a good person” and that she hopes he’s expelled.
Her letter of resignation was just as spicy: “Unfortunately, you never took one point of professional advice given,” she wrote in a resignation letter viewed by Semafor. “With respect for my colleagues, the People of New York and most importantly, myself, I am honored to tender my resignation.”
- Only five lawmakers have ever been expelled from the House of Representatives, most of them for supporting the Confederacy. Congress most recently ousted James Traficant in 2002 after he was convicted of bribery.
A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Santos’ communications director. Semafor regrets the error.