WASHINGTON – A Republican-led effort to expel Rep. George Santos of New York failed on Wednesday night, after a group of lawmakers from Santos’ home state could not persuade enough of their colleagues that his admitted lies and federal indictment were sufficient grounds to oust him.
Even as House members condemned Santos for lying to voters and donors about his biography and résumé and apparently falsifying ties to the Holocaust and Sept. 11, many said that expelling him now – nearly a year before his trial is even set to begin – would set a dangerous precedent.
With Republicans holding a razor-thin majority that they are loath to imperil, many of them, including Speaker Mike Johnson, chose to defer judgment on Santos’ fate to the conclusion of the criminal case or a continuing House Ethics investigation.
The vote is the second time in nearly six months that Santos, 35, has evaded a push to expel him. And it has cleared the way for him to remain in office as he fights the 23-count federal indictment accusing him of involvement in a range of fraudulent schemes.
The resolution was introduced by Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a first-term Republican representing a neighboring district on Long Island.
It was backed by four other first-term Republicans from New York and supported largely by Democrats, who pushed a similar effort in May after Santos was first indicted.
The effort faced a high hurdle. Because the resolution required two-thirds approval, every Democrat and 77 Republicans would have had to vote to expel Santos, assuming all 433 members voted on the matter.
Santos is not yet out of the woods. His criminal trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in September. And before the vote, the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday declared that it was “expeditiously” reviewing the allegations against Santos and would “announce its next course of action” on or before Nov. 17.
Santos, who is running for reelection, also faces a crowded Republican primary next year in which local and national leaders have said they will not back him.
But he narrowly avoided becoming the first representative since the Civil War to be removed from office without a criminal conviction, and only the sixth member of the House to be expelled in the body’s history.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., a former public defender, had predicted the expulsion of Santos would fail over due-process concerns.
“What’s the point of having the Ethics Committee, if you don’t let them do their work?” Armstrong said hours before the vote. He added that he believed Santos should resign, but absent a decision from the “Ethics Committee or a conviction, it turns into a political vote. It’s a very serious step for 750,000 people to have no representation.”
Armstrong said the conference was aware of Johnson’s position against the expulsion, and that would probably influence how some saw the vote.
“You don’t get to get rid of due process in the hardest cases,” he said. “Now, the minute you get found guilty, that changes.”
Federal prosecutors charged Santos, who represents parts of Long Island and Queens, with 23 felony counts for his participation in a series of financial schemes involving his personal and campaign finances. They have accused him of filing false financial reports, fraudulently receiving unemployment benefits, stealing the identities and credit card numbers of campaign donors and falsifying a $500,000 personal loan to his campaign.
Santos has pleaded not guilty to all counts and has denounced the case against him as politically motivated and a “witch hunt,” language similar to that used by former President Donald Trump when referencing his four criminal cases.
But last month, his former campaign treasurer, Nancy Marks, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and said in court that she conspired with Santos to report the fictitious $500,000 loan and other fake contributions.
D’Esposito and a number of first-term New York Republicans in vulnerable swing district seats launched the effort after Marks’ plea, and prosecutors charged Santos with 10 more felonies.
D’Esposito’s resolution cited Santos’ voluminous autobiographical lies, his fraudulent links to the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 attacks and the criminal charges, concluding: “George Santos is not fit to serve his constituents as a United States Representative.”
On Wednesday, he and his four Republican colleagues in New York sent a letter to the entire House addressing their colleagues’ objections. In a debate before the vote, they made impassioned speeches on the House floor urging fellow lawmakers to remove him.
“We’re going to set a new precedent today, that we are against lying fraudsters coming to the House of Representatives,” D’Esposito said.
In response, Santos attacked D’Esposito and his allies for prioritizing politics over the need for due process.
“They believe that by attempting to expel me they will garner political points, capitalize on political fundraising and receive congratulations from those who do not approve of my voting record,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.