What Happens After George Santos Is Forced Out of Congress?

Photo: The Washington Post/The Washington Post via Getty Images

George Santos’s political future will likely be decided this week following months of mounting legal troubles and relentless calls for his resignation. What happens in the next few days will also help determine the near-term future of Santos’s congressional district, a Long Island– and Queens-based swing district that will be key to next year’s battle for the lower chamber. (Santos has already declared he won’t run for reelection.)

With Congress back from vacation, multiple members of the House have put forth resolutions to expel the freshman congressman from the chamber, which are likely to set up a vote that has a good chance of succeeding. Before that vote, Santos could opt to step down from his seat rather than become one of the infamous few members to be voted out of the House, though Santos himself has said he has no intentions to resign. With an expulsion vote slated for this week and the 2024 election on the horizon, here’s what can be expected.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on whether to expel Santos from the chamber as early as Tuesday, which would be the third time they have done so since he entered office. Previous attempts resulted in a referral to the Ethics Committee back in May and a failed vote earlier this month. But attitudes began to shift after the House Ethics Committee issued its damning report on Santos that alleged that he committed “grave and pervasive campaign-finance violations and fraudulent activity.” The report’s release revived calls for Santos to be removed from office with Republican Ethics chairman Michael Guest and Democratic congressman Robert Garcia filing expulsion resolutions shortly after. Punchbowl News reports that Garcia intends to call his resolution forward on Tuesday.

Since the previous expulsion vote failed 179 to 213, support for Santos’s ouster has grown, including among members of his own party. On the day of the ethics report’s release, Axios reported that 19 Democrats and close to 12 Republicans who previously didn’t back expelling Santos intended to switch sides. Since then, the list of names has only grown. Though the official “yes” tally isn’t known — and there are still many members who have yet to make their stances public — Santos seemed to acknowledge that there’s enough support for the expulsion vote this time around during an X Spaces last week. “I’ve done the math over and over, and it doesn’t look really good,” he said.

Still, expulsion from Congress is exceedingly rare for a reason: A successful vote requires a two-thirds majority of the chamber in favor. Only five members of the House have been expelled in the history of the chamber, with the bulk of those expulsions occurring during the Civil War. The most recent House members to be forced from office were Congressman Michael “Ozzie” Myers of Pennsylvania in 1980, who was implicated in the FBI’s Abscam sting, and Congressman James Traficant of Ohio, who was convicted of bribery in 2002.

During the X Spaces conversation, Santos suggested that he would embrace his new outsider status if expelled.

“You want to expel me? I’ll wear it like a badge of honor,” he said. “I’ll be the only one expelled because people did not like me.”

If Santos leaves his seat, whether by (nominal) choice or not, New York state law requires Governor Kathy Hochul to issue a proclamation for a special election within ten days of the seat becoming vacant. The election will then occur between 70 to 80 days following the proclamation. Members of the county party committees will nominate a candidate to run in the election.

On the Democratic side, the once-robust field has narrowed following the entry of former congressman Tom Suozzi, who previously held the Third Congressional District seat. (Suozzi previously defeated Santos when he challenged him for his seat in 2020, but Suozzi later declined to run for reelection in order to pursue an unsuccessful bid against Hochul in the governor’s race in 2022.) Two former candidates, nonprofit co-founder Zak Melamed and Nassau County legislator Josh Lafazan, dropped their bids to back Suozzi’s campaign. Former state senator Anna Kaplan is also campaigning for the seat.

There are several Republican candidates in the running, including Air Force veteran Kellan Curry, lawyer Greg Hach, and retired NYPD detective Mike Sapraicone.

The New York Daily News reports that a potential special election might be held in late February and the already slated 2024 primary and general elections will later decide who will hold the seat for a full term.

Santos’s troubles won’t end if he leaves Congress. He is set to stand trial on September 9, 2024 for the 23 federal charges pending against him. In May, federal prosecutors alleged Santos directed a consultant to solicit contributions from donors only to use those funds for personal expenses and purchases, among other offenses. They levied ten counts against him including charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.

Santos was later hit with a superseding indictment in October, with 13 additional charges including aggravated identity theft and making false statements to the FEC. Prosecutors claim that Santos personally defrauded campaign donors by using their credit-card information to make thousands of dollars in unauthorized transactions. He was also alleged to have conspired with his campaign accountant Nancy Marks to falsely inflate the number of contributions received by the campaign in order to qualify for a Republican Party committee program that would provide support to the campaign. Marks pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States last month.

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