Rep. George Santos Faces Expulsion

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From the Uphill on The Dispatch

Happy Friday! Less than a week before Thanksgiving, we’re thankful Congress was able to adjourn this week before coming to blows—mostly.

The Congressional Record

  • Senators voted 87-11 late Wednesday night to approve the House-passed stopgap funding bill proposed by new House Speaker Mike Johnson, averting a government shutdown. President Joe Biden signed the legislation on Thursday.

  • A jury in California on Thursday convicted David DePape, of assault on an immediate family member of a federal official and attempted kidnapping of a federal officer. DePape, who attacked former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul last October, could face up to 50 years in prison.

  • Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat who was first elected in 2012, announced Thursday he will not run for reelection. In a video, he said being treated for cancer earlier this year gave him a new perspective about how he wants to spend his time. Kildee, 65, spoke with The Dispatch shortly before the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol about how it affected his work and his relationships with Republicans who tried to overturn the 2020 election. “With my wife, with my kids, with my mom, who’s 87, I’ve had conversations with them, and it’s inevitable that the question comes up like, ‘Well, do you really want to keep doing this?’ And I do,” he said at the time. “But sadly, I don’t look at the place the way I used to.”

  • Kendrid Hamlin, who attacked Rep. Angie Craig at her apartment building in Washington, D.C., in February, was sentenced to more than two years in prison this week. Hamlin pleaded guilty to assaulting Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, including punching her in the face and trapping her in an elevator. Craig testified that the attack has had “a lasting impact on my family.”

  • House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul told Punchbowl News he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he needed ammunition “yesterday.” Netanyahu reportedly asked for more Iron Dome interceptors, precision-guided weapons, and artillery shells.

Santos Could be Expelled

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters after a vote on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters after a vote on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

When the House returns from its Thanksgiving recess at the end of the month, Rep. George Santos may become the first member expelled from the chamber since 2002—and only the sixth to face such punishment in American history.

Santos—a New York Republican who is charged with 23 felony fraud counts for wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, making charges on donors’ credit cards without their permission, and submitting false information, among other violations—survived an initial attempt to expel him earlier this month as members awaited a House ethics panel investigation into his behavior. The committee’s 55-page report, released Thursday, is blistering and might turn the tide: Santos, the bipartisan investigative subcommittee wrote, “cannot be trusted.”

“At nearly every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles,” the report adds. Santos “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit,” according to the panel, including blatant theft from his own campaign, deception of donors, and false reports to his political committees, all enabled by “a constant series of lies to his constituents, donors, and staff about his background and experience.”

Among the listed transgressions: Santos allegedly used campaign funds for Botox treatments, personal credit card bills, luxury clothing, personal travel, who-knows-what on pornography subscription site Only Fans, and products from makeup chain Sephora. The panel also said Santos faked loans to his campaign.

The ethics panel declined to recommend specific punishments for Santos, although the report noted his case is “unprecedented in many respects” because of the sheer scope of violations, which are “highly unusual and damning.”

“The integrity of the House has been called into question in a significant and overt manner that the Committee cannot ignore,” the report states. “The nature of the violations are fundamental ethical failings that go to the core of the legitimacy of the electoral process.”

The Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Michael Guest, has thoughts on how to proceed: He introduced an expulsion motion on Friday.

To succeed, a motion to expel Santos would need to win two-thirds of the chamber—a high bar. The math can vary depending on absences, but if all Democrats vote to expel Santos, roughly 77 Republicans would have to vote alongside them to pass it. If House Speaker Mike Johnson supports Santos’ expulsion, it would probably pick up enough Republican votes to pass easily. Johnson’s spokesman said Thursday the report’s findings are “very troubling,” and Johnson wants all members to “consider the best interests of the institution” before addressing the matter after recess.

The New York district Santos represents would hold a special election as soon as this spring if he is removed from the chamber. It would probably be a tight race: Santos flipped the district from a Democratic seat to a Republican seat, and the former Democratic representative for the district who has filed to run again in November 2024, Tom Suozzi, would likely run in the special election. Republicans already have a slim majority in the House, but the math may not change much if Santos is kicked out. A different special election in Utah next week is expected to fill a vacant seat for Republicans.

Santos claimed Thursday the report is a “disgusting politicized smear” and a “grave miscarriage of justice.” But he announced he will not run for a second term in 2024 because he doesn’t want his family to be under constant media scrutiny. His trial on the criminal charges is set for September 2024.

Most members who face criminal charges resign well before expulsion proceedings unfold in the House, but Santos—despite his decision not to run again—seems ready to stay put in the current 118th Congress until members force him out. Only five House members have ever faced expulsion, the chamber’s most severe form of internal punishment. Three of those representatives were expelled in the Civil War era for fighting on behalf of the Confederacy. Rep. Michael Myers was expelled in 1980 after being convicted of bribery, and Rep. James Traficant was expelled in 2002 after being convicted of bribery, filing false tax returns, and obstruction of justice, among other counts.

A group of New York Republicans who have pushed to oust Santos from the chamber since the New York Times revealed late last year he had lied profusely about his personal background to get elected said Thursday they will renew their efforts. “George Santos should end this farce and resign immediately,” Rep. Mike Lawler, one of those members, said Thursday. “If he refuses, he must be removed from Congress.”

No fewer than 13 Republicans who previously opposed Santos’ expulsion said Thursday they will vote to expel him when the House returns. “George has betrayed the trust of his constituents who deserve honesty and transparency from their elected official,” wrote Rep. Stephanie Bice, an Oklahoma Republican.

Some Democrats who previously withheld their support from an expulsion—saying at the time they wanted justice to play out or for the ethics panel to release its findings first—also indicated Thursday they are now willing to remove Santos from the House. “This conduct is beneath the office he was elected to represent, and I plan to vote for his expulsion,” said Rhode Island Democrat Rep. Seth Magaziner.

And Rep. Deborah Ross, a North Carolina Democrat who sits on the Ethics Committee and voted ‘present’ on ousting Santos two weeks ago, said the report “conclusively demonstrates Rep. George Santos is unfit to serve in this body.”

David Laufman—a partner at the law firm Wiggin and Dana and a former investigative counsel for the House Ethics Committee from 1996 to 2000—told The Dispatch he was struck by the panel’s withering findings. It was among “the most florid, condemnatory language I’ve seen issued from the committee,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, Laufman added, the ethics panel would create an adjudicative subcommittee to consider potential penalties and report recommendations to the full House. Skipping that step, he said, appears to be “a direct reflection of the severity of the conduct, combined with the daily embarrassment to the U.S. House of Representatives of the continuing membership of someone like Mr. Santos. The body cannot tolerate for a moment longer his continued membership in the House.”

Democrats Face Schism Over Israel Policy

Several Democratic lawmakers were meeting at Democratic Party headquarters near the Capitol Wednesday night when they heard shouting from outside. Roughly 200 progressive protesters, demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, had barricaded them inside the building.

According to U.S. Capitol Police, the protesters failed to obey police instructions to leave the property, moved dumpsters in front of the doors, pepper sprayed an officer, and tried to move a bike rack. David Weigel, a Semafor reporter who was there at the time, said the protesters didn’t try to enter the building; they were instead blocking the exits.

Police used force to dispel the group. The Ceasefire Now Coalition, which organized the protest, said afterward 90 members were injured. Videos of the police response quickly boomeranged around social media.

“We have handled hundreds of peaceful protests, but last night’s group was not peaceful,” the Capitol Police wrote in a statement. “When demonstrations cross the line into illegal activity it is our responsibility to maintain order and ensure people’s safety.”

Lawmakers who were in the building at the time urged the protesters to leave. Rep. Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat who was evacuated by police, told protesters that although they have the right to assemble peacefully, “blocking all entries to a building with multiple members of Congress in it, protected by Capitol Police officers who have lived through January 6 is putting you and other innocent people at risk.”

“Forcing police to guess intent is irresponsible and dangerous,” Casten added.

Rep. Hillary Scholten, a Democrat from Michigan who also was in the building, said in a statement Thursday such demonstrations can’t “be classified as peaceful.”

Wednesday’s clash was just the latest in a series of protests intended to erode Democratic lawmakers’ support for Israel as it carries out an offensive in Gaza to root out Hamas. Thousands of protesters gathered in Washington earlier this month to demand a ceasefire. Before that, Capitol Police arrested more than 300 protesters in mid-October who demonstrated illegally in a House office building. Some members of Congress seem to be experiencing demonstrations at their own homes, too: Politico reported Thursday that Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, was late to a meeting this week because protesters were at his house.

Although concrete numbers are difficult to determine, thousands of people in the Gaza Strip have died amid Israel’s campaign—launched after Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped more than 200 others in a brutal attack on October 7. The Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza has claimed more than 11,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip, many of them women and children. Hamas entities are anything but trustworthy (and their counts don’t differentiate between combatants and civilians), but Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of State for near Eastern affairs, told lawmakers at a hearing last week that American officials believe the casualties are “very high, frankly, and it could be that they’re even higher than are being cited.”

American lawmakers from both parties told The Dispatch before Israel had even begun its ground offensive that they were prepared for a high casualty count. Gaza’s demographics and population density—half of the enclave’s roughly 2 million people are children—make targeting an assault against only militants difficult. “We should support Israel not only in moments of comfort and convenience, but also in moments of challenge,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat, told The Dispatch at the time. “The wretchedness of war is a tragedy. The death and destruction that war brings is a tragedy. No one should ever deny or downplay the tragedy of war, but it must be remembered that the aggressor here is not Israel, it is Hamas.”

Some Democratic lawmakers, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, have urged a ceasefire. Others have called on Israel to change its strategy or to take a humanitarian pause. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said Israel’s current approach “is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of permanently ending the threat from Hamas.”

And Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia made a similar case on the Senate floor this week. After outlining his support for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, he said conditions for civilians in Gaza are catastrophic. “The extent of civilian death and suffering in Gaza is unnecessary. It is a moral failure,” Ossoff argued. “And it should be unacceptable to the United States.” Ossoff called on Israel to conduct a more targeted campaign, allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and provide a plan for the future governance of the enclave.

(Read Jonah Goldberg’s piece from this week about demands for a ceasefire here.)

Members from both parties and Democratic leaders remain largely aligned with Israel. Top Democrats from both chambers of Congress spoke at a pro-Israel rally, organized to fight antisemitism, this week in Washington.

Lawmakers are also debating how to advance new military assistance to Israel. Senate leaders and the White House hope to attach Ukraine aid to such a package, but many rank-and-file Republicans, skeptical of additional Ukraine aid, would rather see Israel funding travel alone. Now that members have averted a government shutdown, that debate is expected to become the center of attention when Congress returns.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told rally-goers what he said to Israeli officials when he visited the country shortly after the October 7 attack: “We ache with you. We stand with you. And we will not rest until you get all the assistance you need.”

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