By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted on Friday to expel Republican Rep. George Santos of New York after a blistering ethics report on his conduct heightened lawmakers’ concerns about the scandal-plagued freshman. Santos became just the sixth member in the chamber’s history to be ousted by colleagues, and the third since the Civil War.
The vote to expel was 311-114, easily clearing the two-thirds majority required. House Republican leaders opposed removing Santos, whose departure leaves them with a razor-thin majority, but in the end 105 GOP lawmakers sided with nearly all Democrats to expel him.
The expulsion marked the final congressional chapter in a spectacular fall from grace for Santos. Celebrated as an up-and-comer after he flipped a district from Democrats last year, Santos’ life story began to unravel before he was even sworn into office. Reports emerged that he had lied about having Jewish ancestry, a career at top Wall Street firms and a college degree, among other things.
Then, in May, Santos was indicted by federal prosecutors on multiple charges, turning his presence in the House into a growing distraction and embarrassment to the party.
Santos joins a short list of lawmakers expelled from the House, and for reasons uniquely his own. Of the previous expulsions in the House, three were for siding with the Confederacy during the Civil War. The remaining two occurred after the lawmakers were convicted of crimes in federal court, the most recent in 2002.
Seeking to remain in office, Santos had appealed to colleagues to let the court process play out. He warned of the precedent they would set by expelling a member not yet convicted of a crime.
“This will haunt them in the future,” Santos told lawmakers on Thursday evening as they debated his removal.
As it became clear Friday that he would be expelled, Santos appeared resigned to his fate. He placed his overcoat over his shoulders and shook hands with conservative members who voted against his expulsion. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who voted against expelling Santos, was solemn as he announced the result of the vote and declared the New York seat vacant.
Outside the Capitol, trailed by a crush of reporters and cameras, he quickly ducked inside a vehicle and left.
Santos’ fellow Republicans from New York were front and center in the effort to boot him. Among them were fellow freshmen who serve in key swing districts and had helped the GOP take the House majority. They sought to generate as much political distance as they could from Santos, whose lies about his past made him a pariah in the House before he even took the oath of office.
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, whose district is next to Santos’, led the debate for expulsion and argued that voters would welcome lawmakers holding themselves to a high standard. Another New York Republican, Rep. Nick Langworthy, said Santos had only himself to blame.
“Every precedent under the sun has been broken by George Santos,” Langworthy said. “Has there ever been anyone here that’s made up a whole life?”
Santos had survived two previous expulsion attempts, but a scathing House Ethics Committee report released the week before the Thanksgiving holiday appeared to turn colleagues decisively against him.
After eight months of work, Ethics Committee investigators said they had found “overwhelming evidence” that Santos had broken the law and exploited his public position for his own profit.
“It’s a solemn day,” said the chairman of the ethics panel, Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss. “I mean no one wants to have to remove a member from Congress. But the allegations against him, the evidence was overwhelming.”
Rep. Susan Wild, the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee, reminded members that the decision approving the investigators’ findings was unanimous.
“Mr. Santos is not a victim,” Wild said. “He is a perpetrator of a massive fraud on his constituents and the American people.”
Santos’ troubles are far from over, as he faces trial next year in New York. Federal prosecutors in a 23-count indictment have accused him of duping donors, stealing from his campaign and lying to Congress.
The indictment alleges specifically that Santos stole the identities of campaign donors and then used their credit cards to make tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges. He then wired some of the money to his personal bank account and used the rest to pad his campaign coffers, prosecutors say. Santos has pleaded not guilty,
Santos’ expulsion narrows the GOP’s majority to 221-213 and Democrats will have a good opportunity to fill the vacancy. Shortly after the vote, Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said she’s prepared to call a special election for the seat, likely in mid-to-late February under a timeframe set by state law.
“When you look at his lack of ethics and the fact that, you know, he has not served the people of our state, particularly New York 3 where he resides, it’s been an abysmal run for him,” Hochul said Friday.
The special election will kick off a hotly contested year of congressional races in New York as Democrats look to flip a handful of seats in the state and retake control of the House. The field of candidates for Santos’ seat is already crowded and includes former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who represented the district before an unsuccessful run for governor last year.
Now that he has been removed from office, Santos’ congressional office will remain operational under the management of the Clerk of the House. No additional staff can be hired, but the current staff can stay on and perform constituent casework. They will be unable to undertake any legislative activity, such as the drafting of bills.
Santos, for his part, hasn’t lost all the privileges afforded to former members. He will still be permitted to walk onto the House floor and fraternize with members.
According to House rules, any former lawmaker can maintain their floor privileges unless they are a lobbyist, foreign agent, have a direct interest in the bill being considered at the time, or have been convicted of a crime in relation to their election or service.
Associated Press staff writers Farnoush Amiri and Stephen Groves contributed to this report, and Anthony Izaguirre contributed from Albany, New York.