The House of Representatives on Wednesday evening overwhelmingly rejected a measure to expel embattled Republican Rep. George Santos from Congress, whose months of controversies have culminated in 23 felony charges and antipathy from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, particularly in his home state.

The measure needed the support of two-thirds of the chamber. It fell far short, 179-213 with 19 absentions. 

What You Need To Know

  • The House of Representatives on Wednesday evening overwhelmingly rejected a measure to expel embattled Republican Rep. George Santos from Congress

  • A group of five freshman GOP congressmen from New York, elected last year alongside Santos, sent a letter to their Republican colleagues urging them to support the expulsion measure on the House floor

  • Santos is facing 23 felony charges, including wire fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds; he has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him

  • Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday said that it will announce its “next course of action” in its probe into Santos on or before Nov. 17

The measure was introduced last week by a group of Santos’ fellow freshman GOP congressmen from New York, who urged their fellow Republicans on Wednesday to support it in speeches on the House floor and a letter to all the members of the House GOP conference.

“Unfortunately, we learned very early into Mr. Santos’ term that he was elected under false pretenses which made it clear that he cannot represent the great constituents of Nassau County and across the country,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., who represents a neighboring district. He was joined on the house floor by Reps. Nick LaLota and Mike Lawler, also New York freshman Republicans, to denounce “the lies, the deceptions about Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, his education, his work history, his faith, the fact that he was ‘Jew-ish,’ claiming that his grandparents escaped the horrors of the Holocaust.”

In remarks of his own, Santos defended himself, denied culpability in the criminal charges against him and accused his fellow Republicans of playing politics and seeking material to fundraise off of. No Republican spoke in Santos’ defense.

“Efforts taken by other members of this body to act as judge, jury and executioner are unconscionable and reckless to our republican system of government and to the integrity of this body,” Santos said. “I’d like to say I understand the point of view of my colleagues, but I don’t.”

“I’m fighting tooth and nail to clear my name in front of the entire world,” Santos later added. “It hasn’t been easy. But I’m fighting by God’s grace.”

All told, Santos is facing 23 felony charges, including wire fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds. Prosecutors say he stole money from campaign donors and identities from family members, misled federal election officials and fabricated a $500,000 loan, among other alleged schemes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. The New York congressmen frequently cited the guilty plea of his campaign treasurer last month on a charge connected to Santos’ alleged crimes.

The five GOP lawmakers — including Reps. Nick LaLota and Mike Lawler — all represent swing districts in New York won by President Joe Biden in 2020; Santos’ legal troubles could complicate their paths to reelection, as well as Republicans’ prospects of holding their majority in the House. 

Republicans’ slim majority may have been Santos’ saving grace. A two-thirds majority is needed to expel a member of Congress, though the House sets its own rules and no standard of criminality needs to be met for removal. New Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has said the chamber should wait to see the results of Santos’ criminal trial.

“Over the last days, I’ve heard, Mr. Speaker, from many members saying that there is due process, that there is precedent,” D’Esposito said. “Well I stand before you today, Mr. Speaker, in saying that if we’re going to set a new precedent today that we are against lying fraudsters coming to the House of Representatives, well, then I am all for that precedent.”

The group of New York Republicans introduced the measure last week as a so-called “privileged resolution,” which meant that the House was forced to consider it within a certain timeframe. It was initially announced earlier this month after federal prosecutors unveiled a slew of new charges against Santos, including conspiracy, false statements, aggravated identity theft and credit card fraud, but the House was without a speaker at the time and largely unable to conduct business until a new leader could be selected.

Earlier this year, the five New York Republicans voted with their party to refer a Democratic-led expulsion measure to the House Ethics Committee.

While no Republican stood in Santos’ defense during a short debate ahead of the vote on Wednesday, the embattled congressman ceded some of his allocated speaking time to another New York freshman: Democrat Dan Goldman, a relentless foil to his state’s Republicans. Goldman supports expelling Santos, but wanted to lob criticisms at the other Republicans for waiting until November to expel him, a tactic Santos was apparently happy to help facilitate.

“I agree with everything that my Republican colleagues said here today, but everything they have said here today was also true in May when they voted to protect George Santos. Has there been anything that has changed?” Goldman asked. “George Santos hangs like an albatross around the necks of every single Republican from New York. They don’t carry anymore today about integrity or morality or the reputation of this institution than they did in May when they voted to protect Mr. Santos. They just care about their reelection in one year.”

In their letter Wednesday, the group of New York Republicans addressed the concern among the House GOP that booting Santos would “further risk our already slim majority,” writing that “we say this issue is not a political one, but a moral one.”

“What has changed is that there is an additional 13 charges in an indictment with a campaign treasurer pleading guilty,” D’Esposito said, responding to Goldman directly on the House floor. Back in May, “I realized that we did not have two-thirds of the House and perhaps we won’t this evening.”

In the letter, the congressmen went on to invoke the 30 Senate Democrats who called on New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to resign over federal bribery charges, adding: “We must lead by example. We must rise to the occasion.”

In addition to his legal woes, Santos has been accused by journalists, acquaintances, business partners, fellow Republicans and former friends of lying for years about his career on Wall Streetacademic credentialsathletic achievementsHollywood rolesracial heritagebeing the descendant of Holocaust survivorslosing his mother to the 9/11 terrorist attack and losing employees in the 2016 Orlando mass shooting at a gay nightclub that left 49 people dead.

“When you can make up the fact that your mother was in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, with not even an ounce of shame or remorse, you are unfit to serve,” Lawler said. “All of us being from New York remember that day precisely.”

“The number of my classmates whose parents were in the building, whose parents didn’t come home. The number of first responders in each of our districts who still to today are dying of 9/11-related illnesses. This is not something you joke about, you lie about. It is unfit,” Lawler added, his voice rising to a yell.

The congressmen also argued that expelling Santos would not rob voters in New York’s Third District — which encompasses parts of the New York City borough of Queens and parts of Long Island’s Nassau County — of representation, but rather contends they were “duped” by the embattled Republican and would get an opportunity to pick a new representative in Congress by approximately mid-February 2024 via a special election.

They also cited a Newsday/Siena College poll which suggests that 78% of respondents in Santos’ district, including 89% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans, want him to resign.

Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday said that it will announce its “next course of action” in its probe into Santos on or before Nov. 17. But the New York Republicans, not yet at the end of their first full year of Congress, don’t want to wait any longer.

“We are here today because we’ve heard all the facts, we know what is at stake and, yes, we understand there is a precedent,” D’Esposito said. “But by God, if there is ever a time that the American people want to see a new standard, want to see a new precedent set on Capitol Hill, I think now is the time.”

Spectrum News' Kevin Frey contributed to this report.