It’s hard to get two-thirds of the House of Representatives to agree on anything. That’s why it usually only happens when there’s an emergency, like keeping the government open, or when there are no consequences, like passing bills to name federal buildings after local figures.
But Friday’s expulsion of now-former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), only the sixth-ever member to be booted out of the House, was an exception. Even with its constitutional requirement for a two-thirds majority to expel him, the vote was not dramatic, with Santos seeing how it was going to end and leaving the House floor before the five-minute tally was finished.
“To hell with this place,” Santos reportedly said as he left. And, judging by comments from some of his fellow New York colleagues and other members of the House, the feeling is mutual.
“I think he dug his own grave,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who has been in Congress since 1997 and voted to get rid of Santos.
“There are many people who are disliked. We’re all disliked at one time or another. I never saw as much animus as this. I never saw the fervor about him.”
Asked after the vote if Santos would be missed, Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), part of a group of New York-area Republicans who had pressed to get rid of Santos, laughed. “Missed? No. He will not be missed,” Lawler said.
“This was not an issue of party. It was not an issue of the majority. It was an issue of right versus wrong and putting the country first,” he said.
Santos, who admitted to embellishing his resume and background in his campaign to get into Congress and who faces federal charges — to which he has pleaded not guilty — related to allegations ranging from unemployment benefits fraud to stealing the identities of his political donors to tap their credit cards, was a Republican. But dislike of Santos crossed partisan lines.
The vote was 311 to 114, with two members, Reps. Al Green of Texas and Jonathan Jackson of Illinois, both Democrats, voting “present.” Some 206 Democrats voted to expel Santos, while a slight minority of House Republicans, at 105 members, voted to do so. That combination of roughly two-thirds Democratic support and one-third Republican support was last seen on a stopgap funding bill in November to keep the government open, which got 209 Democratic votes and 127 Republican ones.
Whether it was the allegations of campaign malfeasance, the efforts to seek and keep the public spotlight, or being a symbol of millennial fake-it-till-you-make-it hustle culture, Santos rubbed many of his colleagues the wrong way.
Even Santos’ defenders said they were not necessarily supporting him individually as much as the institution of the House of Representatives, and what should be the bar for tossing a member out.
Asked if any of his colleagues would miss Santos, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who voted against expulsion, said that “some members will, some members won’t, some members will be indifferent, and the body will move on.”
“My concern is when you make these massive changes from precedent, it changes the very nature by which this institution is supposed to function,” Donalds said. “We’ve been lectured politically for the last four years, a lot of it in the press, about our institutions. What happened here today goes against the principles of our institutions.”
Santos himself sometimes retreated to biblical comparisons to describe the unfairness of the attacks against him.
“There’s people with all sorts of sheisty backgrounds, and all of a sudden, George Santos is the Mary Magdalene of the United States Congress,” he said in a rambling appearance in an audio chat on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. It was not immediately clear what he meant by the comparison to the biblical figure, who in popular culture is often portrayed as a reformed prostitute.
Whether Santos’ expulsion will provide something of a needed pressure relief valve for the House — which since January has seen a lengthy battle for speaker, a near government debt default, a near government shutdown, a second lengthy battle for speaker, tit-for-tat censure resolutions, and now a member expelled — remains unclear.
A few lawmakers were hopeful, but many were doubtful.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), one of Santos’ chief antagonists, said the expulsion was “a baby step forward” but added that the “organizing principle” of House Republicans, of whom 112 voted to keep Santos, was deceit.
“Where did George Santos, who is essentially a con man, and he might have a very serious psychological disorder — he seems to be a compulsive liar — but where did George Santos get the idea that you could lie, cheat, steal, corrupt the government and succeed in the Republican Party? Gee, I wonder,” Raskin said.
“If there’s one person who can bring us together, it’s clearly George Santos,” said Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), who was one of the early advocates of expelling Santos.
“There is no silver lining in this story. George Santos is neither a victim nor a hero of this tale,” said Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), who voted for expulsion.
“If, out of this, comes an upholding of some basic standard of conduct, then that’s good for America,” he said.
But while Congress may be done with Santos, and vice versa, the story may not yet be over, Pascrell cautioned.
“We’re going to hear more. There will be more after he leaves. Guaranteed,” he predicted.