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Republicans reject Democratic resolution to expel Rep. George Santos from Congress

Rep. George Santos departs the U.S. Capitol after a vote on May 11, 2023.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Rep. George Santos departs the U.S. Capitol after a vote on May 11, 2023.

Updated May 17, 2023 at 6:00 PM ET

House Republicans blocked Democrats' effort to expel scandal-plagued Rep. George Santos from Congress less than a week after the first-term Republican congressman pleaded not guilty to fraud charges.

Democrats pushed a resolution to expel Santos, but Republicans instead voted along party lines 221 to 204 to send the matter to the House Ethics Committee. Seven Democrats voted present, including several on the House Ethics panel to head off concerns of a conflict of interest.

The one-sentence resolution introduced on Tuesday by California Rep. Robert Garcia was largely a symbolic one; the measure was widely expected to fail but forced House Republicans to go on the record about their colleague from New York.

"He's already admitted to lying and defrauding, he is an embarrassment to the House and to the country," Garcia told reporters earlier on Wednesday, days after Santos confessed to stealing a checkbook in Brazil to buy goods in 2008. "People want better from us and they want honest and ethical government."

The motion was a privileged resolution, which when offered by a rank-and-file House member triggered a procedural vote in the next two days. Any motion to expel required a two-thirds vote.

Santos, whose office has not immediately responded to an NPR inquiry about his reaction to the resolution, has rejected a series of allegations and insisted he will remain in Congress.

Santos, who has been facing calls from members of his own party to resign, pled not guilty last week to federal fraud charges. He faces 13 counts of criminal wrongdoing, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

"This indictment seeks to hold Santos accountable for various alleged fraudulent schemes and brazen misrepresentations," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in a statement.

"Taken together, the allegations in the indictment charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself," he added. "He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and lied to the House of Representatives."

Santos wasreleased on a $500,000 bond.

One day after Santos pled not guilty, he appeared remotely in a criminal court for a separate case in Brazil. The New York Times first reported that the embattled congressman signed a deal with Brazilian prosecutors that he would confess to stealing checks to buy clothing and other goods in 2008 and pay almost $5,000 in fines.

In January, Santos voluntarily stepped down from his committee amidst outcry over his fabricated biography and ongoing questions surrounding his personal and campaign finances.

At the time, Santos told his GOP colleagues in a closed-door conference meeting that he was not pressured to do so by Speaker McCarthy, but felt staying on the committees was a distraction for his colleagues.

In March, the House Ethics Committee announced it was opening aformal investigationto examine whether Santos "engaged in unlawful activity" during his 2022 campaign. Democrats are forcing a vote before the ethics panel has concluded their investigation. Typically, expulsion recommendations come from an investigative panel on the House ethics committee and are reserved for severe misconduct. The last lawmaker expelled from the House was Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, in 2002 and his ousting came after he had been convicted of several crimes and an official recommendation came from the ethics committee to do so.

McCarthy said last week he would not support a reelection bid from Santos and said he would call on him to resign pending the results of the ongoing ethics investigation.

On Tuesday, McCarthy said he wants to see the Ethics Committee "move rapidly on this."

"Everybody in America is able to have due process," Mccarthy told reporters after his meeting at the White House with President Biden and other top congressional leaders on the debt limit. "I don't want to wait around for the courts to act. What I would like to do is have the House take action and have a process here."

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.