Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rep. George Santos survives effort to expel him from the House

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., is shown listening as Republicans try to elect Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., to be the new House speaker, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.
Alex Brandon
/
AP
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., is shown listening as Republicans try to elect Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., to be the new House speaker, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

WASHINGTON — Rep. George Santos easily survived a vote Wednesday to expel him from the House as most Republicans and 31 Democrats opted to withhold punishment while both his criminal trial and a House Ethics Committee investigation proceed.

The effort to kick Santos out of the House was led by his fellow New York Republicans, who are anxious to distance themselves from a colleague infamous for fabricating his life story and accused of stealing from donors, lying to Congress and receiving unemployment benefits he did not deserve.

But the resolution failed to gain the required two-thirds vote. Supporters could not even gain a simple majority, with the final vote being 179 for expulsion and 213 against.

To succeed, numerous Republican lawmakers would have had to break ranks with newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson, who has said Santos should get his day in court. Johnson, R-La., also recently told Fox News that if Congress is going to expel members because they are charged with a crime or accused of wrongdoing, "that's a problem."

Some Democrats also voiced concerns about getting ahead of the Ethics Committee, which issued a rare memo the day before, citing the depth of its investigation with some 40 witnesses contacted and the issuance of 37 subpoenas. It also said the next steps of the committee's investigation would be announced by Nov. 17.

"I feel like due process is still alive. I feel like there's enough colleagues on both sides of the aisle here who understand that," Santos said after the vote.

Congress has rarely resorted to the most extreme punishment at its disposal. The House has expelled only five members in its history — three during the Civil War and two after their convictions on public corruption charges. It would be groundbreaking for the House to kick out Santos before his case in federal court is resolved.

Some Republicans, however, said they had seen enough of Santos. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said he believes in due process, but also thinks Santos misrepresented himself to New York voters and they never would have elected him if they had "known the true George Santos."

"We don't need the Santos charade all the way through the 2024 election cycle. I think the Congress needs to take action now," Womack said.

The House floor debate over whether to expel Santos was undertaken strictly by members of the New York congressional delegation. On one side, Republican Reps. Anthony D'Esposito, Nick LaLota and Mike Lawler laid out their case for expelling Santos.

"Mr. Santos is a stain on this institution and not fit to serve his constituents in the House of Representatives," D'Esposito said.

On the other side was Santos, who appealed to lawmakers to hold off on expulsion, saying that passing judgment without due process would engender mistrust.

"I'm fighting tooth and nail to clear my name in front of the entire world," Santos said. "It hasn't been easy, but I'm fighting by God's grace."

The only Democratic lawmaker to speak during the debate was Rep. Dan Goldman. He said Santos should have been expelled in May when Democrats brought an expulsion resolution, and the only reason the New York Republicans were leading the effort now was because Santos "hangs like an albatross around the necks of every single Republican from New York."

"They don't care any more about integrity or morality or the reputation of this institution than they did in May when they voted to protect Mr. Santos," Goldman said. "They just care about their reelection in one year when they know that their support for George Santos is going to be a problem."

The New York Republicans laid out in their expulsion resolution the array of charges Santos is facing in federal court, saying the charges indicated Santos engaged in serious financial fraud throughout his 2022 campaign for the House. The resolution said he deceived voters regarding his biography and is "not fit to serve his constituents as United States Representative."

"Mr. Santos has said expelling him before he is formally charged and found guilty would create a new precedent in this body, one that could have negative consequences for generations," LaLota said. "Respectfully, Mr. Speaker, I disagree. The consequences and precedents of not expelling him for his lies and fraud has the potential to do far more damage to this institution."

In May, Republicans under then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California sidestepped the Democratic-led effort to expel Santos. While 204 Democrats voted against a motion to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee, House Republicans stood unified behind the effort that delayed action on Santos' conduct.

Johnson, who took the speaker's gavel last week, made it clear he would prefer not to oust Santos at this point, despite the many charges against the congressman, as Johnson struggles to control a very slim majority.

"He's only been charged. He hasn't been found guilty of anything. We have due process in America," said GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who opposed the expulsion resolution.

Democrats were also more divided than they were during the previous expulsion effort against Santos.

"Neither the Ethics Committee nor the courts have finished adjudicating this," tweeted Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who voted against expulsion. "In this country, one is presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. No exceptions."

Rep. Marc Molinaro, a New York Republican who supported the expulsion effort, said the delegation would likely raise it again once the Ethics Committee releases the findings of its investigation.

"I suspect the report is going to come public soon, and it's going to be clear that he should be removed from Congress," he said.

Santos faces 23 charges in federal court. His trial has been scheduled for September next year. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Also on Wednesday evening, the House voted to reject an effort to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Democrats called off an effort to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press