Rep. George Santos (R-NY) lives to see another day in the House of Representatives.
Santos, Congress’ most notorious fraudster and fabulist, survived an expulsion vote Wednesday night that was led by his fellow New York Republicans.
The resolution failed 179 to 213, with 31 Democrats opposed to removing Santos and 24 Republicans voting to expel him. Nineteen members also voted present.
While the 23 federal charges Santos faces—conspiracy, wire and credit card fraud, making false statements and records, as well as aggravated identity theft—were enough to get 24 Republicans to vote for Santos’ removal even before the Ethics Committee rules on his case, it was not enough to garner the needed two-thirds of the House to give the disgraced congressman the boot.
As the House geared up to consider the expulsion resolution this week, the House Ethics Committee dropped a conspicuous update Tuesday regarding its investigation into Santos: The committee plans to announce “its next course of action” in the Santos inquiry on or before Nov. 17.
The update also said that investigators had contacted about 40 witnesses, reviewing over 170,000 pages of documents and authorizing 37 subpoenas.
The Ethics Committee development put pressure on the leader of the Santos resolution, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), to withdraw his resolution, but D’Esposito refused to relent.
D’Esposito told a Politico reporter ahead of the vote that “a new precedent that holds members accountable for lying to voters about their life to be elected to the House of Representatives is one I’m in favor of.”
“Higher standards are what Americans want to see,” D’Esposito said. “Those who claim to be fighting the DC status quo—this vote is an opportunity for positive change.”
Santos tweeted that he was “fine and calm” heading into the vote. As the New York Republican leaders of the resolution pushed for his ouster during debate, Santos sat by himself on the House floor mostly fussing with his phone.
“One can’t say that they are pro-Constitution and at the same time act as judge, jury, and executioner. Where is the consistency, Mr. Speaker?” Santos said in his own defense on the House floor. “Actions taken within this body are delicate, and consistency is essential. And now is not the time to set dangerous precedent.”
The Santos expulsion vote brings up several uncomfortable truths for House Republicans. For one, they have a razor-thin House majority of four members, and losing Santos—even with all his faults—makes the GOP’s already uphill battle stitching together a majority even steeper.
“Here’s the reality Sean: We have a four-seat majority in the House,” Johnson said. “It is possible that that number may be reduced even more in the coming weeks and months. And so we’ll have what may be the most razor-thin majority in the history of the Congress. We have no margin for error.”
On the upside for a GOP majority, the expulsion vote could provide a re-election boost to the vulnerable New York Republicans leading the effort to kick Santos out of Congress, particularly D’Esposito, Mike Lawler (R-NY), Marc Molinaro (R-NY), Nick LaLota (R-NY).
D’Esposito started fundraising off of the expulsion vote before it even happened.
Johnson and other House Republicans have also fret over the precedent of expelling a member without a conviction or recommendation from the House Ethics Committee. Only five lawmakers have ever been expelled from the House and none have been removed without a criminal conviction since the Civil War.
“He’s not convicted, he’s charged. And so if we’re gonna expel people from Congress just because they’re charged with a crime then—you know, or accused—that’s a problem,” Johnson said.
By voting to expel Santos, Republicans invite questions about if federal charges disqualify someone from federal office. By that standard, former President Donald Trump—who faced four criminal indictments—would be unfit for the White House.
But by opposing Santos’ expulsion and allowing more time for federal and Ethics Committee investigations, Republicans could undermine the credibility of their own shaky inquiry into President Joe Biden should they pursue an impeachment vote.