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House to vote on motion to expel George Santos from Congress

The House is poised to vote Friday on a motion to expel Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) from Congress — an action the chamber has taken only five times in U.S. history and not for more than 20 years — in response to an array of alleged criminal behavior and ethical lapses that came to light after the freshman lawmaker was found to have fabricated key parts of his biography.

The planned vote follows the release two weeks ago of a 56-page Ethics Committee report that accused Santos — among other things — of stealing money from his campaign, deceiving donors about how contributions would be used, creating fictitious loans and engaging in fraudulent business dealings. Santos, the report alleges, spent hefty sums on personal enrichment, including visits to spas and casinos, shopping trips to high-end stores, and payments to a subscription site that contains adult content.

A defiant Santos has long denied wrongdoing and resisted calls to resign, claiming at a news conference on Thursday that fellow House members were “bullying” him and that the Ethics Committee report was incomplete and “littered with hyperbole.”

Santos also faces 23 federal criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering, falsifying records and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Removing a member of the House requires a two-thirds vote from the chamber, in which Republicans hold a narrow majority. Two previous efforts to oust Santos failed. But the latest push gained traction in part because the resolution is sponsored by Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), the chairman of the ethics panel, and because of the audacity of the behavior alleged in the report.

While Santos would boast about “significant wealth” and claimed to have access to a trust managed by a family firm, for example, the report alleged that Santos was “frequently in debt, had an abysmal credit score, and relied on an ever-growing wallet of high-interest credit cards to fund his luxury spending habits.”

During House debate Thursday over the resolution, Guest defended the work and report of the panel, saying investigators worked for eight months reviewing 172,000 pages of documents and interviewing 40 witnesses.

The findings, he said, “were shocking.”
He also emphasized Santos had “ample opportunity to be heard” by investigators and the committee. “He is once again presented the opportunity here today to before this body, before the American people, he has the opportunity today to rebut the findings of the Ethics Committee,” he said.

Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.), who previously said he does not support efforts to remove Santos, was among the handful of Republicans who argued during the floor debate against expelling the freshman lawmaker. Nehls claimed, without evidence, that the Ethics Committee had been “weaponized” against Santos.

“You may accept this report as grounds for expulsion from Congress, but I say no,” Nehls said. “It’s not right. The totality of circumstance appears biased. It stinks of politics.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday expressed “real reservations” about the motion to expel Santos, citing the precedent it would set, but said lawmakers would be free to “vote their conscience.” Santos could be the first lawmaker expelled in modern times without having been convicted of a crime.

Expulsions from Congress are extremely rare. Only five members of the House have ever been expelled in American history: Three lawmakers were expelled in 1861 at the start of the Civil War, for fighting for the Confederacy. Former Pennsylvania congressman Michael Myers (D) was expelled in 1980 after he was convicted of bribery, and former Ohio congressman James Traficant (D) was expelled in 2002 after being convicted of racketeering, bribery and fraud.

Friday’s vote comes 14 months after the North Shore Leader, a local Long Island newspaper, reported a suspicious and “inexplicable rise” in Santos’s reported net worth when he was still a congressional candidate. Months later, in December, the New York Times reported that Santos — by then a representative-elect — had fabricated much of his résumé and biography.

Some of his fabrications were jarring — he claimed that his mother was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — while others seemed merely far-fetched. For example, he had said he was captain of his college volleyball team.

An array of local, state and federal investigations have since ensued.

Under New York law, a vacancy of Santos’s seat would require Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to call for a special election within 10 days of the vacancy, and that special election would be held between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s call. The campaign for the seat in 2024 has already attracted several candidates on both sides of the aisle.

A vacancy also would give Democrats a chance to flip the seat as the parties fight for the House majority in 2024. President Biden won Santos’s district — New York’s 3rd Congressional District — by more than 10 percentage points in 2020.

The Ethics Committee report on Santos found “substantial evidence” that he knowingly violated ethics guidelines, House rules and criminal laws.

“Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” the report stated. “He blatantly stole from his campaign. He deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit.”

According to the report, Santos was given an opportunity to submit to investigators a signed written statement responding to the allegations, but he did not do so. Santos also did not respond to the committee’s requests for documents, to voluntarily testify or to provide a statement under oath. Investigators noted that they thought any testimony from Santos “would have low evidentiary value given his admitted practice of embellishment.”

Santos told reporters this week that he had spoken with Johnson over the weekend and that the House speaker had not encouraged him to resign.

“They want me to resign because they don’t want to take this tough vote that sets the precedent to their own demise in the future. Because they’re not immune from all the nonsense that goes on in Washington,” Santos said. “My message to them is ‘either put out or shut up’ and enough of this charade.”

Last month, before the Ethics Committee report was released, a group of fellow New York Republicans attempted to remove Santos from Congress. Almost 200 Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against that motion Santos in fear that it would establish a precedent to oust lawmakers without receiving due process.

That vote was preceded months earlier by House Democrats — led by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) — pushing to remove Santos from the chamber after he was charged in May by federal prosecutors with 13 counts, including defrauding his donors, using their money for his personal benefit and wrongfully claiming unemployment benefits.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was speaker at the time of the first expulsion effort, said in May that the question of whether to expel Santos should wait until the release of the Ethics Committee report.

Throughout the year, Republicans in House leadership refused to take on their colleagues’ efforts to oust Santos, but that changed once the Ethics Committee report was released. Since then, at least a dozen lawmakers who had voted against expelling Santos last month publicly stated they would support a motion to kick him out of Congress.

After the report was published, Santos continued to resist calls to resign. But he did say he would not run for reelection in 2024 after all, reversing course from a previous announcement in April that he would. The lawmaker had already stepped down from his committee assignments in January after more of his alleged fabrications were made public.

During long-winded remarks on X Spaces last week, Santos — despite saying he would not step down from office — said he no longer wanted to work with “a bunch of hypocrites” in Congress, whom he accused of committing infractions more severe than his, including being “more worried about getting drunk every night” with lobbyists.

Marianna Sotomayor, Azi Paybarah and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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