WASHINGTON–Speaker Kevin McCarthy explained Tuesday night how Rep. George Santos could exit Congress through the House Ethics Committee, though he has continued to stick by the embattled freshman Republican from New York.
“If for some way when we go through Ethics and he has broken the law, then we will remove him, but it's not my role,” McCarthy said. "I believe in the rule of law. A person's innocent until proven guilty."
The speaker elaborated on the issue to reporters this week in his most extensive comments about Santos since members were sworn in earlier this month. McCarthy could not by himself expel Santos from the chamber even if he wanted to – that would take a vote by two-thirds of the House – but he could marshal his caucus for such a vote in the future.
“The American public in his district voted for him. He has a responsibility to uphold what they voted for, to work and have their voice here, but at any time, if it rises to a legal level, we will deal with it then," McCarthy said.
He added that he's been standing by him because voters elected him and he doesn't have the power as speaker to remove him.
Pressure builds to remove Santos
McCarthy's remarks come after top GOP leaders have begun to open the door to an Ethics probe Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer a key McCarthy lieutenant who chairs the Oversight Committee, told CNN Sunday that Santos is a "bad guy" and his lies are "pretty despicable."
Santos, who has admitted to lying to voters about his personal and professional background, is facing the most scrutiny for campaign finance reports.
He told reporters Wednesday that he would have an answer on why he recently amended his public filings to show that he did not personally contribute $500,000 to his campaign, but he did not say when.
New York Democratic Reps. Daniel Goldman and Ritchie Torres filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee earlier this month, urging the panel to investigate Santos and his campaign finance reports. He is also facing legal inquiries at the local and state levels, with members of his own party calling on him to resign.
Can Kevin McCarthy remove George Santos from Congress?
McCarthy has largely stood by Santos, saying the Constitution dictates it's up to the voters. He has allowed the New York congressman to serve on committees and also emphasized that he alone does not have the power to remove Santos from office.
Critics have accused McCarthy of standing by Santos – who voted for the California Republican 15 times for speaker earlier this month – because ousting him could diminish the Republican majority. But the speaker insists that's not true.
"You know why I'm standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him," McCarthy said. "I do not have the power, simply because I disagree with somebody on what they have said, that I will remove them from elected office."
Is it easy to expel a member of Congress?
It is rare for a member of Congress to be expelled and it requires support from two-thirds of the chamber. To date, 20 members of Congress have been removed: 5 in the House and 15 in the Senate. Most were expelled because of their disloyal behavior prior to the Civil War, according to the Congressional Research Service.
McCarthy said he would hold Santos "to the same standard I hold anyone else elected to Congress."
Unless things rise to a "legal level" or the Ethics Committee recommends expulsion, Santos likely will remain in Congress and on two committees: Small Business and Science, Space, and Technology.
What did George Santos lie about?
Santos has admitted to lying about his personal and professional background, including his heritage, education and where he worked. Among the claims he has made that have since been refuted:
He did not work at Citigroup or Goldman Sachs
He did not lose four employees in the Pulse shooting
He does not own 13 properties
He did not lose his mother in the Sept. 11 attacks
He did not graduate from Baruch College in Manhattan
He was not a volleyball star at Baruch College
He did not study at New York University
"I didn't graduate from any institution of higher learning," Santos told the New York Post. "I'm embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume."
He previously said he was the grandson of Holocaust survivors, telling the lie in his New York district that includes numerous Jewish voters.
Santos has since pivoted to say he's not Jewish, but "Jew-ish."
"I always joke, I'm Catholic, but I'm also Jew-ish – as in 'ish,'" he told City & State.
Though he publicly admitted to embellishing his resume, he said he is "not a fraud."
An updated campaign finance report Tuesday raised more questions about $700,000 Santos gave to his campaign.
His campaign finance reports previously said he personally lent the money to his congressional campaign. An update filed Tuesday indicated the money did not come from his personal funds.
Santos told reporters Wednesday he would have an answer on the change, but did not say when.
Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Santos will be expelled if ethics probe finds laws broken: McCarthy