Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., departs the Capitol in Washington, Thursday evening, Nov. 30, 2023. Santos made it clear on the House floor on Thursda that he will not resign before Friday's vote on whether he should be expelled. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. George Santos of New York is facing a critical vote to expel him from the House on Friday as lawmakers weigh whether his actions, fabrications and alleged lawbreaking warrant the chamber’s most severe punishment.
The first-term Republican congressman is at grave risk of becoming just the sixth member of the House to be ousted by colleagues. Expulsion requires support from two-third of the House, a purposefully high bar, but a blistering House Ethics Committee report released on Nov. 16 that accused Santos of breaking federal law may prove decisive.
“I will not stand by quietly,” Santos declared on the House floor Thursday as lawmakers debated his removal. “The people of the Third District of New York sent me here. If they want me out, you’re going to have to go silence those people and go take the hard vote.”
Of the previous expulsions in the House, three were for disloyalty to the Union during the Civil War. The remaining two occurred after the lawmakers were convicted of crimes in federal court. Santos made his case for remaining in office by appealing directly to lawmakers who worry they are setting a new precedent that could make expulsions more common.
House Speaker Mike Johnson is among those who has voiced concerns about removing Santos, though he has told members to vote their conscience. But some Republicans, including Santos’ colleagues from New York, said voters will welcome lawmakers being held to a higher standard.
“I’m pretty confident the American people would applaud that. I’m pretty confident that the American people expect that, and I hope that tomorrow, in this great chamber, we set that precedent,” said Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, whose district adjoins Santos’.
Santos warned lawmakers they would regret removing a member before they have had their day in court.
“This will haunt them in the future where mere allegations are sufficient to have members removed from office when duly elected by their people in their respective states and districts,” Santos said.
The expulsion push is just the latest chapter in what has been a spectacular fall from grace for Santos, a first-term lawmaker initially celebrated as an up-and-comer after he flipped a district from Democrats last year and helped Republicans win control of the House. But, soon after, troubles began. Reports began to emerge that Santos had lied about having Jewish ancestry, a career at top Wall Street firms and a college degree. His presence in the House quickly became a distraction and an embarrassment to the party.
In early March, the House Ethics Committee announced it was launching an investigation into Santos. Then in May, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York indicted Santos, accusing him of duping donors, stealing from his campaign and lying to Congress. Prosecutors would later add more charges in an updated 23-count indictment.
The indictment alleges he stole the identities of campaign donors and then used their credit cards to make tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges. Federal prosecutors say Santos, who has pleaded not guilty, wired some of the money to his personal bank account and used the rest to pad his campaign coffers.
Meanwhile, Ethics Committee investigators spent eight months investigating Santos and interviewing witnesses. When their work was complete, the panel said it had amassed “overwhelming evidence” of lawbreaking by Santos that it sent to the Justice Department.
Among other things, the Ethics panel said that Santos knowingly caused his campaign committee to file false or incomplete reports with the Federal Election Commission, used campaign funds for personal purposes and violated the Ethics in Government Act with his financial disclosure statements.
Arguing against expulsion during debate Thursday, Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said that while he respects the Ethics Committee, he had concerns about how the Santos case was handled. He said he was troubled that a Republican-led committee would submit a report that was so judgmental and publicized.
“The totality of circumstance appears biased,” Higgins said. “It stinks of politics and I’ll oppose this action in every way.”
While the Ethics Committee does have a Republican chairman, its membership is evenly divided. Rep. Susan Wild, the ranking Democrat on the committee, reminded members that the decision approving the investigators’ findings was unanimous.
“As the Ethics Committee’s report lays out in thorough detail, Mr. Santos has repeatedly, egregiously and brazenly violated the public’s trust,” Wild said. “Mr. Santos is not a victim. He is a perpetrator of a massive fraud on his constituents and the American people.”
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York held his weekly press conference with a massive photo next to him of Santos and Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia sitting in the House chamber together and laughing. It’s an example of how Democrats are looking to tie other Republicans to Santos when possible.
“George Santos is a malignant distraction, and hopefully that issue gets resolved,” Jeffries said.
By KEVIN FREKING Associated Press
Associated Press staff writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.
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