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House of Representatives votes to expel George Santos

2023-12-02 HKT 00:34
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  • The New York Republican is only the third person to join Washington's rogues gallery of ejected lawmakers since the Civil War. Photo: AFP
    The New York Republican is only the third person to join Washington's rogues gallery of ejected lawmakers since the Civil War. Photo: AFP
Indicted Republican George Santos' brief career in the US House of Representatives came to an end on Friday, when fellow lawmakers voted to expel him over criminal corruption charges and accusations of misspending campaign money.

The House voted 311-114 to immediately remove the controversial freshman lawmaker, above the two-thirds majority required to oust one of its own.

Embattled by revelations of lies about his past and a federal criminal indictment, Santos, 35, became only the sixth member to be expelled from the House. He was the first to be kicked out without having fought for the Confederacy or being convicted of a crime.

Following the vote, there was scattered applause in the House chamber.

As he walked out of the Capitol, surrounded by journalists, Santos said, "You know what? As unofficially already no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer a single question from you guys."

"To hell with this place," he said, according to multiple media reports.

The door on Santos' House office was closed, but the plaque bearing his name remained on Friday, shortly after the vote. A small bouquet of flowers lay on the floor outside.

New York state Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, now has 10 days to call a special election for the seat. The election must take place 70 to 80 days from that proclamation.

Shortly before the vote, House Speaker Mike Johnson told his fellow Republicans that he would oppose the expulsion, but that did not sway enough in the party to go along.

Some lawmakers had expressed concerns that booting Santos from office could set a precedent for abusing lawmakers' power of expulsion. His expulsion also reduces Republicans' already slim majority to a 221-213 majority. His district, which includes parts of New York City and Long Island, is seen as competitive.

Santos has been mired in controversy since his November 2022 election. He has admitted fabricating much of his biography, and federal prosecutors accuse him of laundering campaign funds and defrauding donors. Santos has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

He survived a previous expulsion attempt in early November, when 182 of his fellow Republicans and 31 Democrats voted against his removal on the grounds that his criminal case should be resolved first.

But a subsequent, scathing House Ethics Committee report on Santos' behavior eroded what support he had. Only 112 of 222 House Republicans voted to keep him in office this time around. Two Democrats voted against expulsion.

"George Santos' lies were designed to defraud and deceive the voters in order for him to be elected, unlike other public corruption cases," Representative Dan Goldman, a New York Democrat who is a former federal prosecutor, told reporters shortly before the vote.

A bipartisan congressional investigation last month found that Santos charged almost US$4,000 for spa treatments, including Botox, to his congressional campaign account. He also spent more than US$4,000 of campaign money at the luxury retail store Hermes and made "smaller purchases" from OnlyFans, an online platform known for sexual content, according to the Ethics Committee.

That prompted several Republicans who backed him in November's vote to say they'd support kicking him out. During debate on Thursday, Santos acknowledged he likely would be expelled.

He previously said he would not run for reelection next year.

The last member to be expelled was Democrat James Traficant of Ohio in 2002, following his criminal corruption conviction.

Santos' troubles began shortly after his November 2022 election, when media outlets reported he had not actually attended New York University or worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he had claimed during his campaign.

He also falsely claimed Jewish heritage and told voters his grandparents had fled the Nazis during World War Two.

Reports of the falsehoods made Santos a pariah in the House and the butt of late-night TV comedians even before federal prosecutors charged him with an array of fraud and campaign-finance crimes.

In a 23-count indictment, they accuse him of inflating his fundraising totals in order to draw more support from the Republican Party, laundering funds to pay for personal expenses, and charging donors' credits cards without permission.

Two former campaign aides have pleaded guilty to related fraud charges.

Santos denies wrongdoing, and his trial is scheduled to begin on September 9, 2024, shortly before the November elections that will determine control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Before Santos' win in 2022, the district was represented by Democrat Tom Suozzi, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. Suozzi and 19 other candidates, including eight Republicans, have filed to run for Santos' seat. (Reuters)

House of Representatives votes to expel George Santos