Here’s how George Santos could still be removed from office

The House Ethics Committee and Santos’s own colleagues could have the final say

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 07 February 2023 18:03 GMT
George Santos: The imposter in Congress | On The Ground

George Santos’s colleagues in the House could end up being the final arbiters of judgement for the scandal-ridden New York Republican.

Despite wave after wave of revelations surrounding his past and present fictions and lies, the embattled congressman has remained adamant that he will remain in office. Even in the face of members of his own party calling for his ouster, Mr Santos has stood firm.

But none of that may matter if the machinations of the US House of Representatives conspire against him.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has now confirmed that Santos is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

“Ethics is moving through, and if ethics finds something, we’ll take action. Right now we’re not allowing him to be on committees from the standpoint of the questions that have arisen,” he said.

But here’s where it gets tricky: the House Ethics Committee is not some unattached arbiter of truth and justice. It’s a committee, just like any other in the House, made up of members of both parties.

Unlike policy-based committees like those dealing with foreign policy or the armed services, the Ethics committee has the unique ability to police other members of the House of Representatives (to some extent) while also retaining the ability to recommend more serious punishments that can be enacted by the full chamber. It is also evenly split, with five members appointed by each of the two major political parties.

But while the panel’s deliberations are typically conducted in secrecy, members talk. Specifically, individuals belonging to specific factions talk, which means that there’s no action the Ethics Committee will take that does not have the de facto blessing of the Republican majority.

Like all other committees, it is led by a Republican, Michael Guest, a Mississippi congressman and known ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy. It is Mr Guest who sets the panel’s agenda, which means should the Ethics Committee take action against Mr Santos, it’s safe to say it would be done with the support of GOP leadership, including Mr McCarthy.

As of now, there’s little reason to expect that Mr Santos will be fully expelled from Congress. More likely is the chamber voting to censure him, though even that action is questionable given the single-digit Republican majority over which Mr McCarthy presides.

That could change, however, if examinations of Mr Santos’s financial background, and in particular his campaign contributions, yields evidence of wrongdoing. Politico Playbook and other publications have already noted a number of questionable items on the filings, including a large amount of donations just a hair under the $200 threshold, as well as two loans to his campaign reclassified from previously being sourced from his personal funds.

He also remains under investigation by state and federal authorities, who are probing the long list of lies he has admitted to or been caught telling about his background.

Should the Ethics Committee recommend expulsion, Mr Santos would only be removed if two-thirds of the House voted to support such an action. It’s theoretically possible, but much more likely that the embattled congressman would take the road more traveled: resignation.

Expulsion from Congress has only been carried out a handful of times by the lower chamber, the lion’s share of which stemmed from cases that arose during the Civil War or shortly thereafter.

In more recent years members have chosen to resign when it became clear that the House or law enforcement authorities were preparing to take action.

One of the most famous recent examples was Congressman Aaron Schock, a Republican who resigned in 2015 after facing scrutiny over excessive spending with taxpayer funds and campaign donations.

Santos himself responded to the announcement of the House Ethics probe by saying he was ‘not concerned’.

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