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Santos Is Expelled From Congress

Thu, 12/07/2023 - 11:02

LaLota says fellow Republican ‘is not the person he offered to voters’

George Santos in his United States House of Representatives portrait
Clerk, United States House of Representatives

History was made in the United States House of Representatives on Friday when Representative George Santos of New York’s Third Congressional District, following the issuance of a damning Nov. 16 report by the House Committee on Ethics, was expelled by his colleagues less than halfway through his first term.

Mr. Santos is one of six people ever to be removed from the House. The others had either taken up arms for the Confederacy during the Civil War or were convicted of federal crimes. He had fabricated seemingly everything about himself and his background during his 2022 campaign to represent the Third District, which spans part of Nassau County and Queens.

A superseding, 23-count indictment filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Oct. 10 charges him with offenses including conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, wire fraud, making materially false statements to the Federal Election Commission and the House of Representatives, falsifying records submitted to the F.E.C., aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.

He “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” according to the Ethics Committee report. “He blatantly stole from his campaign” and “deceived donors into providing what they thought were contributions to his campaign but were in fact payments for his personal benefit,” among other offenses. Mr. Santos allegedly spent campaign money on Botox treatments, the adult website OnlyFans, and visits to the South Fork, among other misappropriations.

The now-former congressman and his expulsion reverberate on the South Fork for another reason. Representative Nick LaLota of the First Congressional District was also elected in 2022, when Republicans took control of the House thanks to multiple wins in deep-blue New York. Although the First District has been held by a Republican since Lee Zeldin won the seat from Tim Bishop in 2014, it has historically been held by Democrats and Republicans in roughly equal measure. The district’s boundaries are to be redrawn before next year’s elections, and Mr. LaLota’s first re-election campaign is likely to be one of the country’s more hotly contested races.

This may explain the unwavering stance by Mr. LaLota and several of his Republican colleagues from the state delegation that Mr. Santos had to be expelled, despite many other Republicans’ warnings that expulsion before a conviction would set a dangerous precedent. Republicans maintain a scant 221-to-213 majority in the House, and with former President Trump the party’s likely nominee for president in 2024 and the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision overturning the federal right to an abortion proving a drag on the party in subsequent state and special elections, blue-state Republicans are likely to face strong headwinds next year.

House Republicans were divided on Mr. Santos, slightly fewer than half of them voting for expulsion. But the New York delegation, many of its members bracing for tough re-election campaigns, wanted to rid itself of the absurd antics and egregious ethical lapses of one of its own. The Third District would have voted for President Biden in the 2020 election had it existed in its 2022 configuration.

In a statement issued after Friday’s 311-to-114 vote to expel Mr. Santos, Mr. LaLota said that “Nassau and Queens County residents are one giant step closer to having real representation in the House of Representatives. Today, my colleagues and I set a strong precedent: A member who lies about everything about themselves to get elected will be expelled so voters can have a chance at a proper election. With George Santos in Washington’s rear-view mirror, it’s time to focus on policy issues like the border and our nation’s debt.”

His remarks were more cutting during last Thursday’s House debate on Mr. Santos. Both federal and state laws “would require jail time or a monetary fine, or both, for any of our constituents who tricked another person into agreement to another American’s disadvantage,” he said on the House floor. Mr. Santos “is not the person he offered to voters. He didn’t work where he said he did. He didn’t go to school where he said he did. He’s far from rich, he isn’t Jewish, and his mother was not in the South Tower during 9/11.”

Mr. LaLota referred to his time as the Republican commissioner at the Suffolk County Board of Elections, where “I fought for moving deceased voters from our rolls, for voter ID, against fraudulently submitted absentee ballots, and against voters being registered in two different places.”

He added a curious remark about election fraud, suggesting that objections to certifying the 2016 election of Mr. Trump were no different from objections to certifying the 2020 election of Mr. Biden. In both instances, he said, “members of Congress from both sides of the aisle voted not to certify those elections, stating the results were not reliable. Tomorrow, by voting yes to expulsion, Republicans and Democrats can stand for election integrity and against voter fraud, because there is no more provable case of election fraud before this Congress than George Santos’s 2022 election fraud.”

But more Republicans voted against Mr. Santos’s expulsion than voted for it. “Because Santos was buying Botox and OnlyFans, we’ve got to throw him out?” asked Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who has faced his own accusations of misconduct. “If George Santos is convicted, he ought to be expelled. But until then, it is an incredibly dangerous thing for people in Washington, D.C., to substitute their judgment for the judgment of voters.”

The Ethics Committee report, he said, represents an “incredible violation of precedent that will do grave damage to this institution for many years to come, because now there’s no requirement of any conviction.”

If convicted on all counts, Mr. Santos faces up to 22 years in federal prison. A trial date is set for September 2024.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has set Feb. 13 as the date of the special election to fill Mr. Santos’s seat. The winner will serve the remainder of Mr. Santos’s term and would have to run again for a full term in November 2024.

 

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