So long, George Santos, we hardly knew ye—and that was pretty much the problem.
This morning, House members evicted one of their own for only the sixth time in history, terminating the congressional career of the Long Island Republican barely a year after he won election on a campaign of lies and alleged fraud. The vote to expel Santos was 311–114, easily clearing the two-thirds threshold needed to pass. As with most other consequential votes this year, a unified Democratic caucus carried the resolution along with a divided GOP, whose members struggled with the decision of whether to trim their already narrow majority by kicking Santos out of Congress. A slim majority of Republicans stood by Santos, while all but four Democrats voted to expel him.
Santos’s tenure was as memorable as it was brief; to the bitter end—and it was bitter—he seemed to be auditioning for a reality show, or perhaps the title role in a sequel to Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can. Ultimately, a Republican Party that has largely embraced a former president indicted in four separate criminal cases was unwilling to offer the same support to a freshman member of Congress whom a large majority of GOP lawmakers would not have recognized before January. The vote suggested that some ethical line remains that a Republican politician cannot cross without reproach—at least if that person is not named Donald Trump. Where exactly that line sits, however, is unclear.
Republicans largely stood by Santos through earlier efforts to oust him this year after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, false statements, and theft of public funds; just a month ago, the House overwhelmingly rejected an expulsion resolution across party lines. Then came a damning report by the House Ethics Committee that alleged in striking detail just how flagrantly Santos had deceived his campaign donors. He used campaign funds on OnlyFans and Botox, among other salacious tidbits investigators uncovered. “Representative Santos sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” the report concluded. “He blatantly stole from his campaign.”
Santos denounced the report and generally denied the allegations, but he has refused to offer a specific defense of his actions. Still, Republican leaders resisted expelling him. Speaker Mike Johnson privately urged Santos to resign in order to spare his party the difficult vote of removing him. But Santos, who had already announced that he would not seek a second term next year, was done with party loyalty. “If I leave, they win,” he told reporters, accusing his colleagues of “bullying” him.
Johnson tried to pressure Santos, but he would not lobby other Republicans to expel him. He described the expulsion resolution as “a vote of conscience”—which is Capitol code for “vote however you want.” But in the hours before today’s vote, he and Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters that they would vote to save Santos.
The reason GOP leaders would protect Santos was plain: With such a small majority, they couldn’t spare a single vote, even one as ethically and legally compromised as his. “Do you think for a minute if Republicans had a 25-seat majority, they would care about George Santos’s vote?” Representative Pete Aguilar of California, the House Democratic caucus chair, asked earlier this week. “They needed him to vote for Speaker McCarthy. They needed him to vote for Speaker Johnson. That’s the only reason why he’s still a member of Congress.”
A few House Republicans acknowledged that the party could ill afford to jettison Santos when it has had enough trouble passing bills as is. The contingent pushing most aggressively for expulsion was Santos’s New York Republican colleagues, who were both personally appalled that he had slipped into Congress alongside them and most likely to suffer politically from his continued presence. A handful of GOP-held seats in Long Island and upstate New York—including the one formerly held by Santos—could determine whether Republicans keep control of the House next year.
Santos won his competitive seat in 2022 after somehow evading the scrutiny that usually accompanies closely fought House races; not until weeks later did The New York Times report that he had almost entirely invented his life story. Santos had lied about attending a prestigious prep school and earning degrees from Baruch College and NYU. He lied about working on Wall Street for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He said that his grandparents survived the Holocaust and that his mother was working in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Both were lies. “He has manufactured his entire life,” Representative Marc Molinaro, a fellow New York Republican, said yesterday in a floor speech arguing for Santos’s expulsion.
Publicly, the Republicans who voted with Santos—mainly staunch conservatives—argued against his removal on procedural grounds. The only other lawmakers the House has expelled were either members of the Confederacy during the Civil War or convicted of crimes in court. Ousting Santos based on accusations alone, these Republicans said, would set a dangerous new precedent and overturn the will of the voters who sent him to Congress. Yet none of them was actually willing to vouch for him. “I rise not to defend Geroge Santos, whoever he is,” Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said in a floor speech, “but to defend the very precedent that my colleagues are willing to shatter.”
Santos was a performer until his very last moments in Congress. “I will not stand by quietly,” he declared on the House floor. It was one statement of his that was indisputably true. Santos was a ubiquitous presence in the days leading up to the vote, willing to attack anyone standing against him. During a three-hour appearance on X (formerly Twitter) Spaces, he accused his colleagues of voting while drunk on the House floor. When one Republican, Representative Max Miller of Ohio, called Santos a “crook” to his face, Santos replied by referring to him as “a woman-beater,” dredging up allegations that Miller had physically abused his ex-girlfriend. (Miller denied the accusations.) Finally, Santos attempted one last bit of retribution by filing a motion to expel Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, the Democrat who pleaded guilty last month to a misdemeanor charge for falsely pulling a fire alarm en route to a House vote.
“It’s all theater,” Santos declared yesterday with no hint of irony, on his penultimate day as a member of Congress. He had scheduled a press conference outside the House chamber, using the Capitol dome as a picturesque tableau. In the background, however, was a different icon: a garbage truck, presumably there to take out the congressional trash.