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How the George Santos scandal could finally end

New Republican Congress member George Santos has been caught in a series of lies about his résumé. How long can he last in Congress?

Rep. George Santos walks through a Capitol hallway with a to-go coffee cup in hand.
Newly elected Rep. George Santos walks to a GOP caucus meeting in the US Capitol on January 10.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Ben Jacobs is a political reporter at Vox, based in Washington, DC. Ben has covered three presidential campaigns, as well as Capitol Hill, the White House, and the Supreme Court. His writing has appeared in publications including New York magazine, the Atlantic, and the Washington Examiner.

Now that the House of Representatives finally has a speaker, the nation’s attention is turning back to the fate of a first-term Congress member from Long Island with a fondness for sweaters. After reports that George Santos fabricated parts of his résumé surfaced in December, his political fortunes are now front-page news again. The hallway outside the New York Republican’s office has become a veritable cable news studio as reporters and cameras stake him out to get fresh images of Santos dodging questions.

While Santos has faced criticism for weeks from Democrats over his long and elaborate history of lies about his biography, now top Republicans in his district are denouncing him. On Wednesday, at a press conference in New York, Santos was condemned by the chair of the Nassau County Republican Party, the Nassau county executive, and Anthony D’Esposito, the newly elected GOP Congress member from a neighboring district — they all demanded that Santos resign. This was followed by the New York Conservative Party demanding that Santos resign in a press release that described him as morally disqualified from serving in public office.

The question is what Santos does now. These are four possible scenarios.

Santos is expelled from office

Once he became a representative-elect, the House was constitutionally required to seat Santos, but now that he is a member, he can be expelled at any time. The Constitution provides that the House can expel any member “with the Concurrence of two-thirds.” As Josh Chafetz, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown, said, this can happen “for basically any reason” and is not legally reviewable.

However, expulsion is rare in American history and only five members of the House have ever been expelled. Three were Confederates, and two refused to resign after being convicted of corruption. (The most recent was Rep. Jim Traficant, an eccentric Democrat from Ohio known for his unruly hairpiece and habit of ending every floor speech with the phrase “beam me up.”) As Chafetz noted, “when it becomes plausible that a congressman might be expelled, they usually resign in order to prevent the embarrassment.”

Santos resigns

Santos has insisted on Twitter, “I will NOT resign!” However, the precariousness of his position is made clear by the fact that he felt it necessary to adamantly insist that he is not leaving Capitol Hill only days after arriving in Washington. Not only is he already facing state and local criminal investigations, but he’s also the subject of complaints to the House Ethics Committee. One complaint to the House Ethics Committee was hand-delivered by two fellow members of the New York delegation, Reps. Dan Goldman (D-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY), to a media frenzy.

In an interview with Vox Wednesday, former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who resigned from Congress after his own scandal in 2011, said that a congressional ethics investigation is “not an easy process and not a cheap process.” Weiner recalled when he was told by Democratic superlawyer Marc Elias that it would cost $1 million in legal fees if he had stayed in office and faced investigation. (Weiner added the caveat that Elias was trying to convince him to resign at the time.) The House Ethics Committee, which operates on a bipartisan basis, only has authority over sitting House members and can recommend sanctions for violations of House rules that require a majority vote to be adopted.

If he did resign, a special election would be held on a date chosen by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, and the nominees would be selected by party committees, not through a primary. Further, if Republicans are eager to hold on to Santos’s seat, they might calculate that their chances are better in a low-turnout special election than by waiting until November 2024, when voters are likely to revert to their traditional partisan corners, particularly in a district that Joe Biden won in 2020.

Then again, there is no reason for Santos to care about the opinions of other Republicans — particularly those who have already called for him to leave office. In an interview with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Steve Bannon’s podcast, Santos was defiant: “It’s their prerogative ... I wish well all of their opinions, but I was elected by 142,000 people. Until those same 142,000 people tell me they don’t want me — we’ll find out in two years.”

Further, an immediate Santos resignation would greatly reduce his leverage if prosecutors do turn up misconduct in investigating his questionable finances. Instead, it legally makes more sense to save any resignation as part of plea bargain negotiations where it is one of the few cards that he would have available.

Santos doesn’t run again

There have been reports that Santos has already reassured top Republicans in his district that he does not plan to run again. Considering that he is now a political punchline who is under state, local, and federal investigation, a willingness not to seek reelection is not much of a concession. Every revelation by Santos only makes him seem more ridiculous. On Wednesday, it was revealed that he lied to Republican officials about playing on a championship-winning volleyball team at Baruch College — not only did Santos not play on the team, he did not attend Baruch College. The New York Times also published a copy of the résumé that Santos had circulated when running for office, which included false claims about his college education and employment history.

By bunkering down, Santos would continue to collect a federal salary and benefits, when it is unclear what other sources of income he has and how else he would cover his legal costs as his legal woes mount. It also would help new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hold on to his slim, five-seat majority. If Santos resigns, there’s no guarantee he would be replaced by a fellow Republican. While Republicans might have better chances of holding the seat in a special election than if they wait until November, it might not be worth gambling a swing seat when the current majority is so tenuous.

Santos is reelected

LOL. Not even George Santos could make up a scenario where this would happen.

Update, January 13, 12:15 pm ET: This story was originally published on January 12 and has been updated with Santos’s comments on calls for him to resign.