The Republican leaders’ position broadly follows the precedent Congress has set in similar criminal cases over the years.
WASHINGTON — Protecting a narrow four-vote majority, House Republican leaders are making clear they intend to let the legal process play out against New York Rep. George Santos before taking steps to force him to resign or remove him.
A freshman congressman was accused Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged him with embezzling campaign money, fraudulently claiming unemployment benefits and lying to Congress about his finances, and he could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Santos pleaded not guilty.
Republican leaders, who have faced mounting questions about Santos for months after much of his biography was exposed as lies, were unmoved and brushed off calls – including from some colleagues – to take immediate action to oust Santos from Congress .
“In America there is a presumption of innocence. But these are serious accusations. He’s going to have to go through a judicial process,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Scalise was endorsed by Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 Republican in the House, who sidestepped the question of whether Santos should resign.
“As I’ve said from the very beginning of the questions on this topic, this lawsuit will play itself out,” she said.
The Republican leaders’ position broadly follows the precedent Congress has set in similar criminal cases over the years. The House has expelled only two members in decades, and both votes came after a lawmaker was convicted on federal charges. But many say the narrow majority Republicans have won in the House of Representatives is certainly another factor in the thinking of the GOP leadership.
“Several members of the New York delegation and several others are calling for his immediate expulsion from the Republican side, which could tip the hand of the leadership. But given where we are with the debt limit and the four-vote majority, they don’t want to lose any of those votes right now,” said Casey Burgat, an assistant professor who directs the legislative affairs program at George Washington University. .
Santos is adamant that he will remain in Congress and seek re-election. At a news conference outside a federal courthouse on Long Island, he spoke Wednesday about returning to Washington so he can vote on the top priority of the House GOP, a border bill that would restrict some asylum seekers and tighten border controls. The vote is expected to be close.
Last month, Santos also voted in favor of a GOP House bill that would tie the debt limit extension to $4.8 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. In a dramatic flourish, Santos was the last Republican to vote for the bill, helping it win a pass on thin paper — 217-215.
While GOP leaders say the legal system should run its course, some Republicans have seen enough.
“Residents of New York’s 3rd District deserve a voice in Congress,” tweeted Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-Texas. “Jorge Santos must be immediately expelled from Congress and special elections initiated as soon as possible.”
The House and Senate have the power to punish members of their chamber for misconduct, including by expulsion. To date, according to the Congressional Research Service, 20 members have been expelled, but the vast majority occurred at the start of the Civil War. Half of the 20 exclusions were the result of a single vote in the Senate involving senators representing states that had seceded from the Union but had not formally resigned.
The last two exemptions following a conviction on corruption charges:
— Rep. Michael J. “Ozzie” Myers, of Pennsylvania, was convicted of bribery and conspiracy to obtain money from FBI agents posing as Arab sheikhs. He was expelled in 1980 after being convicted and served over a year in prison.
— Rep. James Traficant, of Ohio, was disbarred in 2002, three months after being convicted of 10 federal charges including racketeering, bribery and fraud for accepting bribes and kickbacks from businessmen and their employees.
Some lawmakers also resigned after being found guilty of the crime, warning of a vote to expel them.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., resigned last year after a jury trial in California convicted him in lying to federal authorities about an illegal campaign donation from a foreign national.
Two years ago, Rep. Duncan Hunter, D-Calif., introduced his resignation About a month after pleading guilty to charges that he conspired with his wife to steal about $250,000 in campaign cash to pay for a lavish lifestyle, from vacations to outings with friends and tuition at a private school. Then-President Donald Trump pardoned Hunter shortly before he left office.
Trump also pardoned former party member Chris Collins, D-N.Y resigned in 2019 before pleading guilty to helping his son and others avoid $800,000 in stock market losses when he learned that a small pharmaceutical company’s drug trial had failed.
More than three dozen Democratic lawmakers have signed a bill by Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., that would expel Santos from the House.
“It is abundantly clear to everyone, including his constituents, that he is a total fraud and should not be in Congress,” Garcia said.
Garcia said McCarthy is not pushing for Santos’ ouster because he needs his vote. He urged several New York Republicans who have criticized Santos to sign the deportation legislation.
“He can barely hold his party together on the votes, so it’s clear that he’s using the support of George Santos to keep him in charge,” Garcia said.
Republicans deny that Santos was a distraction and say they are focused on other issues.
“This seat is bigger than any member,” said Rep. Kevin Hearn, R-Oklahoma, chairman of the powerful Republican Study Committee.
Despite reports that Santos was facing federal charges and extensive media coverage of his indictment in New York, Republicans said they did not discuss him during their weekly closed-door meeting Wednesday morning.
“I’ve never heard his name mentioned,” spokesman Andrew Clyde said.