Santos gets the boot
Republicans’ margin of error shrinks in the House
When reports of U.S. Rep. George Santos’ misconduct began to surface late last year, they initially shocked New York Assemblyman Jarett Gandolfo. Santos, by and large, was a blank slate—known as the unlikely candidate who had flipped New York’s 3rd Congressional District for the first time in 10 years. He was also one of few Republicans to win a seat from Democrats in the 2022 congressional elections as an expected “red wave” of GOP gains failed to materialize. Gandolfo at the time had had maybe one or two interactions with the newly elected congressman; their districts are separated by a 25-minute drive.
“He claimed to me that he had just sold a property out in the Hamptons and was looking for property on Fire Island, which is actually an area in my district,” Gandolfo said. “But then we found out that he had never owned a piece of property. I was just like, ‘Huh … that’s a weird thing to lie about.’”
Looking back on the interaction, Gandolfo said it makes a lot more sense now.
Since joining Congress at the outset of 2023, Santos has been followed relentlessly by question marks that have all punctuated his time in office: the personal lies he spun on the campaign trail, reports of misconduct, and evidence of illegal campaign finance activity. He also faces 23 criminal charges before a New York District court to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Months later, Republicans joined Democrats in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote on Friday morning to expel Santos from the House. The motion passed by a vote of 311-114. Two Democrats and 112 Republicans voted against the resolution. Two members voted present.
Before the vote ended, Santos exited the chamber, rushed down the capitol steps, and got into his waiting car. He took no questions and gave no comment.
The ouster narrows an already asphyxiating Republican lead in the House of Representatives. Speaker Mike Johnson must somehow find a way to keep Republicans united as they head into a month full of top-line legislative priorities with very little margin for error.
Since he joined Congress at the outset of 2023, questions about Santos’ campaign and his past have followed him relentlessly. He was caught making up parts of his biography such as the fact that he had Jewish heritage. He then pleaded not guilty to 23 federal charges of misusing campaign funds and defrauding donors. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Ethics released a 52-page report describing how Santos reported false donations and used his campaign funds to purchase luxury personal goods and content from a pornographic website, reported false donations, and even solicited pornographic services through the website OnlyFans.
“We now know that what George Santos did was far worse than any of us—including me—would have anticipated,” said Rep. Daniel Goldman, D-N.Y. “He not only defrauded the voters of the third district of New York. He also embezzled $200,000 dollars for his own personal expenses.”
Coupled with the oncoming retirement of Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, Santos’ removal brings the Republican lead in the House down to just three seats. With spending, critical security legislation, national defense bills, and more on the way, managing that slim majority is a daunting task. Johnson himself, along with several members of the GOP leadership, voted against expelling Santos. Elise Stefanik, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, and Tom Emmer, the Republican whip, also voted against the expulsion.
Other representatives such as Byron Donalds, R-N.Y., are more concerned with the change of precedent Santos’ expulsion brings.
“You are allowed to have due process and a complete adjudication of that,” Donalds said. “It should never be cut short because of political precedent. People might say ‘Byron Donalds is defending George Santos’—no I am not. [Expulsion] can’t be done by the whims of random politicians.”
Johnson and House Republicans may have a hope to get the seat back. New York must hold a special election in the next 70 days to fill the vacancy.
Back in New York, Gandolfo expects voters to move on from Santos. Republicans have made gains at the county and state level on Long Island. Gandolfo believes that’s due largely to concerns over housing costs, inflation, and other economic issues. Santos’ scandals don’t change those realities. According to data collected to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, housing costs in Queens have shot up 70 percent since 2013.
“When I’ve talked to people in restaurants or on the street, Santos is brought up as a laughingstock: ‘What’s up with this Santos guy?’ I haven’t run into a person who seems to think he’s a symptom of the Republican party,” Gandolfo said. “Long Island—we’ve had a pretty significant red wave over the past few cycles.”