clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Democrats’ plan to boot George Santos from Congress just failed

Rep. George Santos was federally indicted — but he’s still likely staying in Congress.

Santos walks down the Capitol stairs with a throng of aides and reporters surrounding him.
Rep. George Santos (R-NY) departs the US Capitol after a vote on May 11, 2023, in Washington, DC. 
Win McNamee/Getty Images

If Democrats have their way, Rep. George Santos (R-NY) will join two felons and three Confederate sympathizers in being expelled from the House of Representatives. It just won’t happen yet.

An effort to expel Santos from Congress was tabled via procedural motion on Wednesday by a party line vote of 221 to 204 with seven Democrats abstaining.

On Tuesday, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) introduced a resolution that would have ousted Santos from Congress if it received the two-thirds majority vote required by the Constitution. It would be an unprecedented action. After all, while Santos is under federal indictment, he has not been convicted of a felony in the United States nor does he have any known ties to the Confederate States of America. The two most recent members of the House to be expelled, Michael “Ozzie” Myers of Pennsylvania and James Traficant of Ohio, were both booted after being convicted of felonies and refusing to resign. Myers had been convicted of taking bribes for his role in the Abscam scandal in the late 1970s, while Traficant was convicted on 10 counts of corruption in 2002.

Speaking to Vox about the resolution Tuesday, Garcia argued that Santos’s situation is unique because his lies were instrumental to his election to Congress. “He got elected by laying out a series of claims, none of which are really true. I mean, lie after lie after lie.” However, Garcia emphasized that Santos had accepted a plea deal in Brazil last week over decade-old allegations that he had passed bad checks. “I think the big difference here is that he has already admitted to serious crimes. And there has never in the history of Congress been a liar like George Santos. This is a completely different level,” said Garcia.

However, Santos’s critics didn’t all seem to agree that the Brazilian case was necessary for Santos to warrant expulsion. In a press conference Wednesday about the resolution, Rep Daniel Goldman (D-NY), a former federal prosecutor, another persistent Santos critic, argued that the New York Republican’s serial fabrications disqualified him from serving on Capitol Hill. “We should not be in a body where criminal law concepts of due process dictate whether or not someone belongs here,” said Goldman. “The measure of whether someone deserves to be a member of Congress is not whether they are a criminal or not.”

Santos will dodge expulsion for now. Although a number of fellow Republicans have called for his ouster, they have all said they will back the procedural effort to refer Garcia’s resolution to the House Ethics Committee. Speaking on the House floor on Wednesday, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) initiated the procedural effort to avoid an expulsion vote by saying explicitly that he supported expelling his colleague and calling Santos “a stain” on Congress.

In a statement, Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) struck a similar tone. He reiterated his call on Santos to resign, describing his colleague’s conduct as “embarrassing and unbecoming.” However, Lawler cautioned, “Never before has a member of Congress, from either party, been removed without a criminal conviction or a referral — which is why I support the effort to refer the matter of George Santos’ expulsion to the Ethics Committee, who will be able to make a swift determination on this that can satisfy the entire body of Congress.”

Democrats, though, are skeptical of the Ethics Committee, which traditionally moves slowly and always in secret. Garcia in particular dismissed the chances of the committee being able to resolve anything in a sufficient manner. Katherine Clark, the Democratic whip, sent out a notice to members formally urging them to vote against referring the resolution to the Ethics Committee, which would force an up-and-down vote on Santos’s expulsion, likely to come Wednesday.

However, the effort to avoid a House vote on Santos’s expulsion is not an endorsement of Santos from Speaker Kevin McCarthy. (After all, having D’Esposito make the procedural motion with a scathing excoriation of Santos was a statement in and of itself.) Instead, it is simply a process-based argument that traditional procedures should be followed even in a case as unusual as Santos’s. McCarthy has pointedly not defended Santos on the merits and has already said that he would not support a reelection bid by the New York Republican.

Afterward, Santos addressed reporters on the steps of the Capitol and echoed this process-based defense. “There is a procedure. You can’t be judge, jury, and executioner. I have a constitutional right to defend myself. And I will do that,” he said. Santos was cautious, though, about what he would do if the Ethics Committee recommended his ouster. “I’m not chaining myself here,” he said. “If the Ethics Committee makes that recommendation, that’s a different story.”

Santos’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the expulsion resolution before the vote.

Update, May 17, 7:10 pm ET: This story has been updated to include comments from Rep. Santos.