These New York Republicans Said They Wanted Santos Out. Then They Helped Keep Him In Office.
Several House Republicans from swing seats in New York said there’s not enough votes to kick fraudster Rep. George Santos out of Congress ― after they blocked a vote that would have put exactly that question to the test.
These five New York Republicans — Reps. Mike Lawler, Anthony D’Esposito, Nicholas LaLota, Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams — joined the rest of their party in preventing an up-or-down vote on the expulsion of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), despite repeatedly calling for him to leave office.
Their justification? Given the need for a two-thirds majority to expel any member of the House, Santos’ expulsion wouldn’t have passed an up-or-down vote anyway.
“Since we don’t yet have the needed 2/3 supermajority to expel Santos, the quickest way to rid this institution of this stain is to refer this issue to the House Ethics Committee,” D’Esposito said in a Wednesday statement, after leading the charge for an Ethics Committee referral.
Here’s how it happened: In response to California Rep. Robert Garcia’s introduction of a resolution to expel Santos, House Republicans instead passed a motion to refer the matter of Santos’ expulsion to the House Ethics Committee.
All 221 House Republicans, who participated in the vote, voted in favor of the motion’s passage.
While Republicans involved in the effort depicted it as a matter of adhering to proper protocol — or, as in the case of the New York members, pragmatism — their action amounted to punting on the expulsion indefinitely.
The bipartisan House Ethics Committee has already been investigating Santos since March. And the Department of Justice, which earlier this month charged Santos with 13 fraud and theft-related crimes, has reportedly instructed the House panel to stand down and allow federal prosecutors to take precedence.
Instead, House Democrats maintain that their GOP counterparts are simply keen to avoid prompting a special election that would, at the very least, create a temporary vacancy that would jeopardize their ability to pass party-line legislation. Republicans have nine more seats than Democrats in the House, but the routine defection of far-right members of the House Republican Conference has given them even less wiggle room on close votes.
“This was an effort to bury accountability for a serious fraudster,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a Thursday press conference. “Why? Perhaps it’s because extreme MAGA Republicans need George Santos’ vote.”
Whatever House Republicans’ motive, their successful tabling of a Santos expulsion effort puts five New York Republicans in purple House districts in a tight spot.
Those members have been among the most outspoken voices condemning Santos and calling for his exit, either through resignation or expulsion.
D’Esposito, who flipped a Democratic-held Long Island seat in November, was the first House Republican to call on Santos to resign.
Asked how he reconciled his decision to vote against an expulsion vote with his previous calls for Santos’ resignation, D’Esposito’s office referred HuffPost to the Congress member’s Wednesday statement affirming that he wished to expel Santos but that there is not yet a two-thirds majority in the House needed to expel him. In that statement, he also described Santos as a “disgusting liar.”
LaLota, also a Long Island Republican, called for Santos to resign shortly after D’Esposito did, and went on to endorse his expulsion in late February.
Asked to explain Wednesday’s vote, a spokesperson for LaLota referred HuffPost to his statement from that day.
“If the Democrats were serious about his expulsion, they would work with us to get a report and referral from the Ethics Committee, rather than offer a political resolution that has no chance of passing the House.”
– Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.)
“While I would have preferred there to be enough votes to expel the sociopath scam artist, Congressman D’Esposito has spearheaded the next best option: To refer this matter to the Ethics Committee where we expect a result within 60 days and for the terrible liar to be gone, by resignation or expulsion, before August recess,” LaLota said.
Rep. Marc Molinaro, an upper Hudson Valley lawmaker, was perhaps the first New York Republican to say he would support Santos’ expulsion in early February, a position he reiterated in March.
Molinaro also based his vote on an understanding that the House lacked the two-thirds majority needed for expulsion, according to a spokesperson, who also shared a statement with HuffPost.
“George Santos should not be a Member of Congress. He has irrevocably lost the trust of his constituents and colleagues,” Molinaro said. “I expect the Ethics Committee to conduct an immediate and swift review.”
Lawler, a lower Hudson Valley lawmaker who ousted then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chair Sean Patrick Maloney in November, has repeatedly demanded Santos’ resignation.
After voting for the motion to send Santos’ expulsion to the House Ethics Committee, Lawler accused Democrats of playing politics.
“If the Democrats were serious about his expulsion, they would work with us to get a report and referral from the Ethics Committee, rather than offer a political resolution that has no chance of passing the House,” he said in a Wednesday statement.
Finally, Rep. Brandon Williams of central New York has more than once called for Santos to resign. Williams represents a seat long held by the GOP, but where President Joe Biden won in 2020.
HuffPost did not receive an immediate response from a Williams spokesperson about his vote to send Santos’ expulsion to committee.
Regardless of these Republicans’ explanations, House Democrats see an opportunity to inflict damage on five of the Republicans they are hoping to unseat in 2024.
The DCCC, House Democrats’ campaign arm, announced Friday that it was spending thousands of dollars on a small digital advertising campaign blasting the five New York Republicans for their vote. (A second ad blitz is due to target House Republicans in 14 other states.)
“Vulnerable House Republicans have proven they are too weak to buck party leadership and — instead of expelling serial grifter and indicted criminal George Santos from Congress — they are protecting him,” DCCC spokesperson Viet Shelton said in a statement.
Jonathan Nicholson contributed reporting.