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House expels George Santos in historic vote

The House voted Friday to expel Rep. George Santos, ending the New York Republican’s tumultuous tenure in Congress and officially etching his name in the history books as the sixth lawmaker ever to be ousted from the lower chamber.

The extraordinary move, unseen in 20 years, took three attempts over six months and required support from large numbers in both parties to meet the inflated threshold — two-thirds of the chamber — for expelling a sitting member. The final tally, 311-114-2, surpassed that mark, with 105 Republicans joining almost all Democrats to remove the scandal-plagued Santos after just 11 months in office.

Reps. Bobby Scott (Va.) and Nikema Williams (Ga.) were the only Democrats to vote against expelling Santos. Reps. Al Green (D-Texas) and Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.) voted present. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) presided over the House when the historic vote closed, lightly hitting the gavel in the silent chamber — a reflection of the solemnity of the moment.

The measure brought fresh attention to the bubbling tensions within the Republican conference, but its ultimate success demonstrated just how toxic Santos had become in the eyes of even many of his GOP colleagues.

Once seen as a GOP trailblazer, Santos is facing federal indictment on 23 counts of wire fraud, identity theft and other campaign finance charges, and many Republicans came to view him as a drag on the party’s image and a liability heading into a tough election cycle where control of the House is up for grabs.

Yet Santos’s ouster also creates immediate hassles for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and his leadership team, whose razor-thin House majority just got a seat thinner heading into high-stakes battles to prevent a government shutdown and provide new funding for Ukraine and Israel — two topics that have created fierce rifts within the GOP conference.

Highlighting those internal divisions, 112 Republicans — more than half of the conference — backed Santos on Friday despite the growing controversy swirling around him. Those voices warned that removing an elected lawmaker from office — without a criminal conviction — sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to unwarranted, politically motivated expulsions in the future.

“We are a nation of laws, not a nation of men,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), an expulsion opponent, said after the vote. “And this institution better remember that.”

Johnson, just weeks into his Speakership, had sought to steer clear of that internal fight, freeing the members of his conference “to vote their conscience” on Santos’s fate. But the new Speaker also made clear that he had “real reservations” with the effort to remove Santos before his criminal cases had run their course — and just hours before Friday’s vote he announced he would vote to keep Santos in his seat — a gesture that failed to sway the scores of Republicans who supported expulsion on Friday.

Passage did not come easy.

The months-long effort to punish the freshman congressman began following revelations that Santos had fabricated his biography on the campaign trail, accelerated in the wake of his two criminal indictments, and hit a fever pitch when the House Ethics Committee released a damning report stating bluntly that the congressman “violated federal criminal laws.”

“This was so extreme, and look, if this case did not merit expulsion, then there would be no case that I would know of that would merit expulsion short of a conviction,” said Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), chairman of the Ethics Committee.

Santos, for his part, raced from the chamber and out of the Capitol once it was clear he was ousted, but before the vote had been gaveled closed. He was swarmed by reporters but declined to answer any questions.

“The House voted — that’s their vote,” he said. “They just set a new dangerous precedent for themselves.”

Santos also had some choice words for the institution that had just expelled him. “To hell with this place,” he said.

Santos then jumped into a waiting car and was whisked away from the Capitol grounds.

It ultimately took Santos’s fiercest critics three attempts to oust him from office — one in May, another in November, then Friday’s successful vote — a reflection of the complicated political and legal implications surrounding the Santos saga, which has captivated the House all year.

Santos had remained defiant through the months of controversy, proclaiming his innocence, arguing his right to due process and attacking his detractors for undermining the wishes of the voters who delivered him to Washington.

In a final PR blitz, Santos embarked this week on a farewell tour of sorts with a series of public appearances, slamming the “arrogant” Ethics Committee, maligning the final report as slanderous, refusing calls to resign and taking aim at his colleagues who for months have pushed to eject him from office amid mounting criticism and contention.

“If I leave, they win,” Santos said when asked about resigning. “If I leave, the bullies take place. This is bullying.”

Yet, in the final days before Friday’s vote, he also appeared resigned to the likelihood that his time on Capitol Hill was coming to a close.

“I’m done losing sleep, I’m done stressing,” Santos told reporters Thursday. “I have just made peace with God in the most, best way possible and said whatever comes my way, I will accept it and I will move on with my life.”

Politically speaking, Santos’s expulsion deprives Johnson of a key vote as he looks to shepherd through a conservative policies in the second half of the 118th Congress. It also presents Democrats with a mid-session pickup opportunity in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, which broke for President Biden in 2020.

An intense race is already underway to succeed Santos, with more than a dozen candidates vying for his seat.

The ouster also raises questions about a new precedent for expulsion. Of the five lawmakers ousted from the House before Santos, three were ejected during the Civil War, for being disloyal to the Union, and the two in the modern era were booted only after being convicted of crimes.

Santos has consistently pointed out that he has only been charged and not convicted.

“It starts and puts us in a new direction, a dangerous one, that sets a very dangerous precedent for the future,” Santos said on the House floor Tuesday. “Are we to now assume that one is no longer innocent until proven guilty, and they are in fact guilty until proven innocent? Or are we now to simply assume that because somebody doesn’t like you, they get to throw you out of your job.”

Lawmakers leading the push to oust Santos, however, argued that the serious findings on the embattled lawmaker — documented in a 56-page Ethics Committee report — provided more than enough reason, not only to remove him, but also to set a new standard for those serving in Congress.

“The precedent is … that we’re holding members of Congress to a higher standard,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) said Friday. “I don’t know any person throughout this nation who wouldn’t want or expect members of Congress to be held to a higher standard.”

While Friday’s vote put a bookend on Santos’s time in Congress, his legal conundrum is just heating up. The New York Republican is facing 23 criminal counts on allegations that he misled donors, fraudulently received unemployment benefits and charged his donors’ credit cards without authorization. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is set to go to trial in September 2024.

Exacerbating those troubles, Santos’s ex-fundraiser and former campaign manager have both pleaded guilty to crimes linked to the New York Republican, deals that could deepen Santos’s legal dilemma.

He is openly expressing that he’s fearful of a worst-case-scenario: jail time.

“Wouldn’t you be, I mean, of course” Santos said when asked if he is concerned about such an outcome. “These are serious allegations and I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

For now, however, Santos is keeping his head high, saying he is proud of the work he accomplished throughout his 11-month tenure. But reflecting on his nearly half-decade journey through politics — which included House bids in 2020 and 2022 — Santos took a message from New York legend Frank Sinatra, whose 1969 hit “My Way” includes the line “regrets, I’ve had a few.”

“I have no regrets of the work I’ve done in Congress; I have regrets of people I associated with within the four years that I campaigned,” Santos said Thursday. “If I could change, if I could walk away, if I had the opportunity to do things differently, associate myself with different people, I would have 100 percent done it all over again.”

“But unfortunately, we don’t have do-overs,” he continued. “We have opportunities to redeem ourselves in the future, and that’s what I’ll look forward to doing.”

Updated at 12:53 p.m. Rebecca Beitsch contributed.

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