The Reason These Democrats Voted to Save George Santos

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Former Representative George Santos was expelled from the House on Friday, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote. Republicans were divided on whether to expel Santos from the House, with 105 voting in favor of his removal and 112 voting against. Democrats were almost entirely united in voting for his expulsion, with four exceptions: Representatives Bobby Scott and Nikema Williams voted against his ouster, while Representatives Al Green and Jonathan Jackson voted “present.”

All four Democrats joined many of the Republicans who opposed his expulsion in warning about setting a bad precedent by removing Santos before he had received either due process in the courts or judgment from his constituents. But Green also issued a more pointed warning: that Black legislators will be especially vulnerable going forward.

“It would not surprise me to know there are some people in Congress who don’t believe Black people are worthy of being here,” Green told me in an interview. He continued: “I suspect that African Americans in Congress will live to regret that vote in some point, because we are among the most vulnerable.”

He added: “The people ought to decide whether a person who has not been adjudicated as a criminal could be removed from the House of Representatives. I think that for us to have this awesome power that allows us to be judge, jury, prosecutor, and investigator—I think it’s just ripe for abuse.”

Green’s three Democratic colleagues echoed the general concern about the potential for abuse. In a statement, Williams said that Santos “is not worthy of serving in the House” and “will likely be convicted of the crimes of which he was accused.”

“This is the People’s House—and although the House Ethics Committee findings were damning, the people of New York’s Third Congressional District should decide who represents them,” Williams continued. “I’ll always side on giving power to the voters.”

In a statement, Jackson explained that he was worried by the precedent set by Santos’s removal, despite the Long Island Republican’s “reprehensible” behavior. Although he has been indicted on several federal charges and was accused of fraud and misuse of campaign funds in a scathing House Ethics Committee report, Santos has not been convicted of any crime. The two previous members in the modern era expelled by their peers were found guilty of their crimes beforehand.

“At a time when Congress has shredded norms and reached new levels of dysfunction, we must protect this [institution] and the constitutional right to due process,” Jackson said. “Former Congressman Santos deserves his day in court and to be judged by a jury of his peers. That day is coming, and until then, he deserves the presumption of innocence.”

The four dissenters were consistent in their opposition: In a previous unsuccessful vote to expel Santos at the beginning of November, Green and Jackson voted “present,” and Scott and Williams voted against.

In a statement after the November vote, Scott explained: “In 2002, I voted to expel Rep. James Traficant but that was after he was found guilty in a court of law.”

“For the sake of the institution, we must stop the cheapening of the censure and expulsion processes for political expediency and get back to the process that we already have in place to appropriately deal with these matters,” Scott continued.