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House Republicans block Democratic effort to expel George Santos from Congress

Santos pleads not guilty to charges
Rep. George Santos pleads not guilty to 13-count federal indictment 02:56

Washington — House Republicans on Wednesday blocked a Democratic resolution that would expel GOP Rep. George Santos from Congress, instead voting to refer the matter to a committee while several investigations into his conduct continue.

Santos faces 13 federal charges of fraud, money laundering and other crimes, with prosecutors alleging he pocketed thousands of dollars of campaign contributions and fraudulently collected unemployment benefits. The New York Republican, who lied about numerous aspects of his background in his pursuit of his congressional seat, pleaded not guilty and recently announced he will run for reelection next year.

On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia of California introduced a measure to expel Santos from the House as a "privileged" resolution, fast-tracking its consideration under House rules. Republicans moved Wednesday to refer the bill to the House Ethics Committee, which opened a formal probe into Santos in March. That vote, which required a simple majority, succeeded along party lines by a margin of 221 to 204. Seven Democrats voted present.

"I look forward to seeing the process play out, and if the Ethics Committee finds a reason to remove me, that is the process," Santos, who voted to refer the resolution to the panel, said Wednesday evening. "I look forward to continuing to defend myself. Again, innocent until proven guilty." 

Republican Rep. Anthony D'Esposito of New York said before the vote that he was in favor of expelling Santos, but "regrettably" there weren't enough votes to oust him.

"I believe that this individual is a stain on this institution, a stain on the state of New York, a stain on Long Island and a stain on the beloved Nassau County," D'Esposito said. "With that said, we believe this resolution should be referred to the Committee on Ethics to ensure a thorough and expedient investigation into this matter. I firmly believe this is the quickest way of ridding the House of Representatives of this scourge on government."

The vote gave other vulnerable Republicans cover from being forced to go on the record with their position on whether the indicted New York congressman should keep his seat. Republicans hold a slim four-seat majority in the House and can ill afford to lose any members.

Rep. Daniel Goldman speaks during a press conference with other Democratic members of the House about a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos on May 17, 2023, at the Capitol.
Rep. Daniel Goldman speaks during a press conference with other Democratic members of the House about a resolution to expel Rep. George Santos on May 17, 2023, at the Capitol. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Expelling a member requires the support of two thirds of the House, meaning dozens of GOP members would need to side with Democrats to successfully expel Santos. Only five House members have been expelled in U.S. history.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he wanted the Ethics Committee to "move rapidly on this." 

"We can look at this very quickly and come to a conclusion on what George Santos did and did not do though Ethics — a safe, bipartisan committee, equal number of Republicans and Democrats," he told reporters. "I think they can come back to Congress probably faster than a court case could." 

House Democrats called the maneuver a "cop out." Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman of New York, a former federal prosecutor, said he expects the Justice Department will ask the Ethics Committee to pause its inquiry while Santos is prosecuted. 

"That is the nature of how these things work," Goldman said. "And traditionally, the Ethics Committee will defer to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution." 

Goldman said the referral was an effort by McCarthy "to keep an extra vote for his legislation because he has such a narrow majority." Santos represents a district that President Biden won in the 2020 election. 

"We all know that Rep. George Santos is a liar and a fraud and should be expelled from Congress," Garcia, who introduced the resolution, said Wednesday. "Republicans in the House now have an opportunity to stand with the American public and their constituents, or to stand with someone who has been indicted on 13 counts." 

Santos told CBS News on Tuesday that House Democrats "are really good at trying to play judge and jury and trying to hold people guilty before they've even been given a free shot at a trial." He said was "confident that justice is blind and that it is not biased like Robert Garcia is."

McCarthy has said he would ask Santos to step down if found guilty and that he will not support his reelection campaign. 

Ellis Kim, Zachary Hudak and Nikole Killion contributed reporting. 

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