It might finally be over for Rep George Santos (R-NY) and, moreover, the House Republican conference might finally be out of excuses to keep him in the House.
On Friday, Rep Michael Guest (R-MS), the chairman of the House Ethics Committee, filed a resolution to expel the embattled and disgraced freshman Republican. This came a day after the committee released its damning report detailing Mr Santos’s misdeeds. (My colleague John Bowden wrote a list of the most outrageous parts of the probe.)
While many of the headlines noted how Mr Santos used campaign cash to pay for expensive meals, shopping trips to Sephora, Botox purchases and Only Fans sessions, fraud lies at the heart of the probe, specifically the fact he lied to the Federal Election Commission, with one of his staffers pretending to be a staffer for now-deposed speaker Kevin McCarthy. Similarly, he also lied about loans he made to his own campaign to qualify for assistance from the national Republican Party campaign apparatus.
As a result, Mr Guest’s resolution could easily be said to be speaking for the entirety of the committee.
It might easy to dismiss this effort by Mr Guest given that he is a conservative Republican from Mississippi who voted to overturn the 2020 election. Similarly, some may roll their eyes considering the House has already had two failed attempts to expel Mr Santos. But those efforts differ wildly from the current expulsion push.
The first time came when Reps Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres, both New York Democrats, led a motion in May that the House majority immediately referred to the Ethics Committee.
But that was likely never going to pass given that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy all but protected Mr Santos given that the embattled freshman supported the speaker as he desperately tried to cling to the majority. Since Mr Santos hailed from a district that voted for President Joe Biden, he would likely be replaced by a Democrat in a special election, which would reduce the margin Mr McCarthy would need to avoid a motion to vacate or simply pass legislation. In addition, the effort by Democrats was as much about humiliating Republicans, getting them on record and tying them to the serial fabulist congressman from Long Island.
The second time came just weeks ago when New York Republicans — led by several of Mr Santos’s fellow New York GOP members — filed a motion that almost immediately went nowhere.
But as we at Inside Washington explained two weeks ago, that effort was less about getting rid of Mr Santos than it was protecting the endangered New York Republicans. Incidentally enough, shortly before that vote, the Ethics Committee released a statement that the investigation was ongoing, likely to discourage the vote, and only Rep Glenn Ivey (D-MD) voted to expel Mr Santos while the rest of the committee members either did not vote or voted “present” on that motion.
Republicans were always bound to vote against it, but by allowing the vote, Speaker Mike Johnson gave those endangered New York Republicans who flipped seats in districts that voted for Joe Biden a chit so they could say they tried to separate themselves from him and then the House could move on.
Mr Guest’s decision to file a resolution to expel Mr Santos is different.
The House Ethics Committee is equally balanced between Republicans and Democrats. As the House becomes more polarized — where many Republicans deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election and many Democrats still don’t trust Republicans after January 6 — the Ethics Committee, much like the Appropriations Committee, remains one of the few bastions where members push aside partisanship and focus exclusively on the work ahead of them. Indeed, Mr Guest’s conservative pedigree only burnish the credibility of the committee’s probe.
Similarly, at this point, the House no longer has any more excuses for keeping him in his office. Throughout the ethics investigation, Mr McCarthy would say that they were taking care of the matter and not resorting to a pressure campaign by the Democrats or media — that they were doing things the “right way”.
This was, of course, a ruse. Mr McCarthy, with his craven opportunism, needed to keep as many people who supported him in the fold. But Mr Johnson winning unanimous support from the Republican conference in his speaker bid reduced Mr Santos’s utility.
Similarly, the fact Democrats regularly bail out Republicans to pass government spending bills and to lift the debt limit — in short, doing the actual work Congress is supposed to do —means Mr Johnson doesn’t need to fret about his vote as much. If the seat goes to a Democrat, the House can continue to do its business because Mr Johnson doesn’t have to worry about Republicans ejecting him.
Lastly, there is just simply the breadth and the extent of his alleged misdeeds. The longer they have him there, the longer that Democrats get to tie him to their most endangered members and the longer it reduces Republicans’ credibility when they want to pull stunts like removing Reps Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) from the Intelligence Committee.
Of course, Mr Santos has tried to get ahead of this and promised that when the House returns from Thanksgiving, he will deliver a press conference, where he very easily could just decide to call it quits. Doing so would save him the disgrace of being expelled and prevent his fellow Republicans from having to take a hard vote.
But who are we kidding? That won’t happen.