Justice for George Santos
Some Republicans have entreated House GOP leaders: Can’t we get rid of this guy? Can’t we just kick him out? The guy, of course, is Rep. George Santos, the GOP freshman who won election in the 3rd District of New York by lying about virtually everything in his life. His campaign also operated on what appears to be a very shady financial basis.
But the first revelation of Santos’ fabrications, published in The New York Times on Dec. 19, came after he was safely and officially elected.
The informal campaign system in which parties scrutinize their own and the opposition’s candidates, and then journalists cover both with a critical eye — that system failed dramatically in this case.
Now, Santos is under investigation by federal prosecutors, state prosecutors, federal regulators and probably others. He might soon be under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, although there are questions about the possible charge against him. He will undoubtedly be under investigation for the rest of his term in Congress.
The daily stream of new allegations against Santos has caused more and more figures in the political world to call for his removal from the House. Some are clearly hoping to pressure Santos to quit. If he does not, then they want the House to expel him. And that is where problems arise.
Yes, Santos can be expelled from the House. The Constitution, in Article 1, Section 5, establishes the authority of both House and Senate to get rid of members: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.”
The Constitution does not specify anything else about removal — what grounds would constitute the basis for expulsion, what process would be required prior to the two-thirds vote, etc. But over the centuries, a process has grown up for disciplining, and sometimes expelling, members of Congress. The process is heavily weighted toward respecting the voters’ decision in sending the member to Washington. It requires time and the adjudication of charges. Rushing Santos out of the House, shortcutting the process, would set a new and dangerous precedent on Capitol Hill.
The House has expelled just five members in all of American history, and it has never expelled a representative for conduct that occurred before that person became a member.
The first three members to be expelled all came in 1861 — two from Missouri and one from Kentucky — when they all joined the Confederate Army in the Civil War. No other member was expelled from 1861 to 1980.
In 1980, the House expelled Rep. Michael Myers, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. On Aug. 30, 1980, a federal jury found Myers guilty of taking a $50,000 bribe from an FBI agent posing as an Arab businessman in the government’s “Abscam” investigation. The transaction was captured on videotape. On Oct. 2, 1980, the House voted 376-to-30 to expel Myers.
The last member to be expelled from the House was James Traficant, a nine-term Democrat from Ohio. On April 11, 2002, a federal jury convicted Traficant of bribery, obstruction of justice, filing false tax returns and racketeering. On July 24, 2002, the House voted 420-to-1 to expel him.
So three members have been expelled for joining the Confederate Army in the Civil War and two were expelled after criminal trials and convictions. The bottom line is that there is simply no precedent for expelling Santos from the House of Representatives. There has been no adjudication against him in any case. So far, there are no charges against him. He has not been indicted or convicted of anything.
Still, say Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided to give in to the anti-Santos voices and push for a vote on expulsion. How would members vote? Democrats would certainly like to see the Republican Party’s already slim House majority become even slimmer. Republicans would like to be rid of the Santos embarrassment. But would they vote to expel a member of the House without an indictment or verdict? Without a thorough investigation? And on the basis of behavior before Santos became a member of Congress? Would they want to set a precedent for quickie expulsion? Who knows where that might lead in coming years?
The point is, there is a process involved in expulsion. It is a serious matter, and it requires a process to determine whether it is warranted, since voters chose the member and, in Santos’ case, the same voters will have a chance to elect another representative in 21 months. A vote to expel Santos now would be a vote to throw out 200 years of experience and process in the House of Representatives. While it might make some members, and some in the media, happy, it could lead to a lowering of standards for expulsion that could consume both parties in the future.
So justice for George Santos will involve process as well as possible punishment. It will not give the instant gratification some in Washington want. But it will be the right thing to do.