June 23rd, 2024

House rejects effort to expel Rep. George Santos of New York

By Kevin Freking And Stephen Groves, The Associated Press on November 1, 2023.

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., listens 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. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) – Rep. George Santos easily survived a vote Wednesday to expel him from the House as most Republicans opted to withhold punishment as 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 vast majority of Republicans and more than 30 Democrats voting against expelling Santos. The final vote was 179 for expulsion and 213 against.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Rep. George Santos faces a vote Wednesday evening to expel him from the House as part of an effort led by 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.

To succeed, their resolution needs the support of at least two-thirds of lawmakers, meaning numerous Republican lawmakers would have 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.”

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, say they have seen enough of Santos and will support the expulsion effort.

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, but that 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. It also 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, has 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.

The committee issued a statement Monday promising to release an update on the investigation by Nov. 17. The statement described a thorough investigation into Santos, and sent a clear signal to rank-and-file Republicans who may be reluctant to expel one of their own before the courts and the committee have weighed in.

“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 opposes the expulsion resolution.

But in a sign that not everyone in GOP leadership shares that view, the third-ranking Republican, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, joined the New York Republicans on the floor last week when they introduced the resolution.

Democrats also could be more divided than they were during the previous expulsion effort against Santos. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., called it a complicated vote because she would like to wait for the committee to release its findings first.

“If there is a report forthcoming, I think we owe it to ourselves to give ourselves a couple of weeks so that we are all operating off the same information,” she said.

Lawler, one of the architects of the expulsion resolution, has argued that the House now has enough evidence to expel Santos, even if Santos’ criminal trial has not concluded. Lawler pointed to a guilty plea that the ex-treasurer for Santos made for a fraud conspiracy charge related to Santos’ campaign.

“So you have now a conviction in this case, that very clearly lays out what he did and how he did it,” Lawler said.

D’Esposito, the lead sponsor of the resolution, said he spoke with Johnson over the weekend about their efforts and the speaker did not ask him to pull the resolution.

“He has been very clear that you need to do what you think is right and you need to do what you think is right for the people of New York,” D’Esposito 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 is expected to consider resolutions to censure Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

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