Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is set to face expulsion from the House as soon as Wednesday, possibly becoming the first congressman in more than 20 years to be removed in a motion brought forth by Republicans from his own delegation.
But unlike the five members throughout U.S. history who were kicked out by an overwhelming majority of the House, Santos would be the first to be immediately ousted without having been convicted of a crime. Establishing such a precedent has prompted members of both parties to seriously weigh the consequences of expelling Santos, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 federal counts in New York that include fraud, money laundering, falsifying records and aggravated identity theft.
In what some lawmakers see as a move to delay the vote on Santos and affirm his right to due process, the House Ethics Committee released a statement Tuesday saying that it continues to investigate the counts against Santos and will announce its “next course of action in this manner on or before November 17, 2023.” Based on what the committee decides about Santos’s conduct, it could make several recommendations for the House to take, including punishments that include censure, reprimand or expulsion.
The House has faced a turbulent several years that have featured a deterioration of civility and decorum between the parties, resulting in rash decisions to immediately condemn lawmakers or call for their ouster. A swath of lawmakers worry that removing Santos ignores the presumption of innocence and would set a precedent that expulsion is a standard option for reprimand at a time when retribution has become the norm in the House.
“Anybody that’s been awake, that’s been reading the newspaper and looking at Twitter understands every reason as to why he should be [ousted],” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), who formally introduced his resolution under privilege Thursday to force speedy consideration of Santos’s removal by the House.
The statement by the House Ethics Committee has blunted the efforts of those trying to oust Santos this week. Expulsion requires approval from two-thirds of House lawmakers voting — or 289 of the chamber’s 433 current members if all are present. Democrats have repeatedly called for Santos’s ouster, and fewer than 10 among the party’s 212 House members remain hesitant to vote in support of his removal, according to a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party whip counts. Republicans, though, do not expect many within their conference to vote in support, even though more than a dozen have previously called for him to resign.
The renewed push to oust Santos, who is running for reelection, is being driven by fellow New York Republican freshmen D’Esposito, Nick LaLota, Marcus J. Molinaro, Michael Lawler and Brandon Williams, all of whom also represent swing districts in the state and face difficult reelections. They still plan on holding a vote on their resolution to do what’s best for their state, said one person familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
The five Republicans argue that there is enough evidence to oust Santos before a formal conviction, citing his former campaign treasurer pleading guilty and admitting in court that she conspired with Santos to commit wire fraud and identity theft, make false statements and other counts.
“That’s basis enough for an expulsion. You don’t get to come here based on lying to all your voters and all your contributors. That is a minimum standard that should be enough, I think, for two-thirds of the House to expel,” LaLota said Thursday after the resolution was introduced.
The New York Republicans also say that Santos had previously admitted to embellishing his biography during his 2022 campaign and that he continues to lie. Just last week, Santos told the New York Times that his niece was falsely kidnapped by Chinese communist spies, which the New York Police Department immediately denied.
“You’re not dealing with somebody who is a rational human being,” Lawler said Thursday.
In response to his colleagues, Santos said that if the motion passes, it should serve as “a clear indication that this country has now gone down the drain.”
“Everybody is innocent until proven guilty. It is the government’s burden to prove you guilty,” he added on the social media platform Spaces. “Unfortunately some of my colleagues want to be judge, jury and executioner and deny me the right to due process.”
The difficulty in surpassing the two-thirds majority threshold has resulted in only five expulsions from the chamber. Three were removed during the start of the Civil War in 1861 for their disloyalty to the Union. Rep. Michael J. Myers (D-Pa.) was expelled in 1980 after he was convicted of accepting a $50,000 bribe from undercover FBI agents, and 22 years later, Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) was ousted after being convicted in federal court on 10 counts that involved bribes, gifts and other favors.
House Republicans have varying views on whether Santos should be expelled. Some have called for Santos to resign. Some caution precedent-setting without due process. A handful of Republicans expressed deep regret for how they spent the first half of the year voting to censure or kick Democrats off committees in retribution for when a Democratic majority did the same to their colleagues.
Others say it’s the last thing the Republican conference needs after eight colleagues voted to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as speaker, triggering an unprecedented three weeks during which all of the conference’s intrapersonal tensions were exposed during a bruising speakership fight. Plus, some worry that with Santos’s removal, House Republicans’ already narrow majority would go down to a three-vote margin of error.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said he hopes the House doesn’t vote on the resolution to expel Santos, saying that lawmakers have “enough problems” that they should focus on and that New York should decide his fate next year. He was undecided about how he would vote Wednesday.
Meanwhile in the Senate, lawmakers have called on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to resign over a federal indictment alleging he and his wife accepted bribes in exchange for maintaining political influence. Leading a fragile Democratic majority, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that Menendez “has a right to due process and a fair trial” and commended his decision to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senators have not discussed expelling Menendez, instead calling for his resignation before a conviction because they believe the evidence against him is enough to have lost the trust of his constituents.
Santos is not the only House lawmaker who could be rebuked this week, though his case is the most serious. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) introduced a censure resolution Thursday morning against Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) “for antisemitic activity, sympathizing with terrorist organizations, and leading an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol complex” in reference to a Jewish-led protest demanding an immediate Israel-Gaza cease-fire. Tlaib, who was one of 10 lawmakers to oppose Wednesday’s resolution condemning Hamas and voicing support for Israel, called Greene’s resolution “unhinged” and “deeply Islamophobic.”
Hours later, Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) moved her own resolution against Greene, saying she should be censured for fanning “the flames of racism, antisemitism, hate speech against the LGBTQ community, Islamaphobia, Asian hate, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred.”
The trio of resolutions introduced Thursday came one day after Rep. Lisa C. McClain (R-Mich.) introduced a resolution to censure and remove Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) from his committees after he interrupted House proceedings by pulling a fire alarm in a House office building in an attempt to delay consideration of a last-minute GOP-led proposal to fund the government in September. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge Thursday.
Unlike with Greene’s and Balint’s resolutions, McClain did not bring hers under privilege, meaning that it will go through the committee process rather than force the House to consider it within 48 hours of its introduction when the chamber is in session. Ahead of a passage vote to censure, Greene and Tlaib will be given the option to table — or kill — the resolutions against them before their adoption. Santos has so far not been afforded that same opportunity.
“I don’t think a motion to table, if there is one, will be successful,” LaLota predicted Thursday.
In just two years, several lawmakers have been censured or removed from their committees by the opposing party. In an unprecedented move under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democrats removed Greene and Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) from their committees. Gosar was also censured for sharing an altered anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging two swords at President Biden.
In what many considered retribution, then-speaker McCarthy backed the removal of Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) from their committee assignments and censured Schiff for pressing allegations that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia.
But Santos’s penchant for falsehoods — which include but are not limited to claiming to be the grandson of Holocaust survivors and to have worked at companies that never employed him — is different. It resulted in bipartisan calls for his resignation and an attempt by Democrats to expel him earlier this year. McCarthy, then House speaker, and all Republicans referred the matter to the Ethics Committee, with several New York Republicans pledging that if the committee did not release a report in two months, they would move to expel him. McCarthy, who was already overseeing a razor-thin majority, said at the time that Santos would be removed from Congress if the committee found that he broke the law.
The seriousness of the counts — with the last 10 dropping in early October while House Republicans were debating electing a speaker — motivated the five Republican freshmen from New York to introduce the expulsion resolution to be considered by relevant committees.
“I think the difference between this and what the Democrats had brought is that you have a guilty plea in court by his treasurer confirming significant details and obviously a superseding indictment based on that conviction,” Lawler said.
Once Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) as their speaker Wednesday, D’Esposito alerted him that he would formally introduce his resolution under privilege the following day in the hopes that they could get enough votes to make Santos the sixth lawmaker to be ejected by his colleagues.
“He said, ‘Do what’s right and do what’s right for New York,’” D’Esposito said about Johnson’s response to the resolution being one of the first pieces of legislation considered under his watch.
Theodoric Meyer and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed to this report.
A previous version of this article incorrectly said that expulsion would require the votes of 288 House members. It would require 289 votes. The article has been corrected.