George Santos’s colleagues in the House could end up being the final arbiters of judgement for the scandal-ridden New York Republican.
Despite wave after wave of revelations surrounding his past and present fictions and lies, the embattled congressman has remained adamant that he will remain in office. Even in the face of members of his own party calling for his ouster, Mr Santos has stood firm.
But none of that may matter if the machinations of the US House of Representatives conspire against him.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy left open the door to that possibility on Tuesday during a press conference outside of his new office in the Capitol.
Speaking to reporters, he indicated that he personally would take no action against Mr Santos while also suggesting that he would not stand in the way of any action suggested by the House Ethics Committee.
“If for some way, when we go through Ethics and he has broken the law, then we will remove him,” Mr McCarthy told journalists. “But it is not my role. I believe in the rule of law.”
But here’s where it gets tricky: the House Ethics Committee is not some unattached arbiter of truth and justice. It’s a committee, just like any other in the House, made up of members of both parties. However, unlike policy-based committees like those dealing with foreign policy or the armed services, the Ethics committee has the unique ability to police other members of the House of Representatives (to some extent) while also retaining the ability to recommend more serious punishments that can be enacted by the full chamber.
And members talk. Specifically, individuals belonging to specific factions talk, meaning that there’s no action the Ethics Committee will take that does not have the de facto blessing of the Republican majority. Like all other committees, Republicans hold a majority of seats on the Ethics panel which is chaired as of this month by Michael Guest, a Mississippi congressman and known ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Should the Ethics Committee take action against Mr Santos, it’s safe to say it would be done with the support of GOP leadership, including the Speaker of the House.
As of now, there’s little reason to expect that Mr Santos will be fully expelled from Congress. He does face the potential for an Ethics Committee investigation following the request for such a probe by two New York lawmakers, Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres, but the allegations they spell out (dishonesty about his background during his 2022 race) are unlikely to amount to a full expulsion. More likely is the chamber voting to censure him, though even that action is questionable given the single-digit Republican majority over which Mr McCarthy presides.
That could change, however, if examinations of Mr Santos’s financial background, and in particular his campaign contributions, yields evidence of wrongdoing. Politico Playbook and other publications have already noted a number of questionable items on the filings, including a large amount of donations just a hair under the $200 threshold, as well as two loans to his campaign reclassified from previously being sourced from his personal funds.
He also remains under investigation by state and federal authorities, who are probing the long list of lies he has admitted to or been caught telling about his background.
Should the Ethics Committee recommend expulsion, Mr Santos would only be removed if two-thirds of the House voted to support such an action. It’s theoretically possible, but much more likely that the embattled congressman would take the road more traveled: resignation.
Expulsion from Congress has only been carried out a handful of times by the lower chamber, the lion’s share of which stemmed from cases that arose during the Civil War or shortly thereafter.
In more recent years members have chosen to resign when it became clear that the House or law enforcement authorities were preparing to take action.
One of the most famous recent examples was Congressman Aaron Schock, a Republican who resigned in 2015 after facing scrutiny over excessive spending with taxpayer funds and campaign donations.