Santos vote sparks new GOP fury with leadership
House GOP leaders have a new problem on their hands: Rank and file Republicans frustrated with their late-game opposition to expelling George Santos.
The New York Republican’s intra-party critics finally prevailed Friday in their push to expel their indicted colleague. Santos’ GOP opponents prevailed despite the opposition of all four top House Republican leaders, who lined up in the 24 hours before the vote to say they opposed ejecting him.
Republican leaders also didn’t whip votes against Santos, arguing that his expulsion was a vote of conscience. In the end, their members split almost evenly — 105 voted to bounce him and 112 voted not to. But some who voted to expel took issue with their leaders’ decision to come out as opponents of expulsion at the last minute, warning that it risked looking like an attempt to tip the scales for Santos.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said he was “very disappointed” with how GOP leaders handled the vote.
“Too many people, including leadership, were using excuses that simply cannot be successfully argued with everyday Americans,” Womack said in an interview. “Had leadership had its way, we would have reset the bar on standards of conduct at a level that we would live to regret.”
Womack, a respected senior appropriator, added that “I am thankful that there were enough thoughtful members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, that recognize that there was only one course of action here.”
Other Republicans who opposed expulsion aired their own concerns privately, saying GOP leaders should’ve fought harder. But the clearest fury came from party members who saw this month’s Ethics Committee report — which found “sufficient evidence” of criminal wrongdoing by Santos — as more than enough reason for Speaker Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to have backed expulsion.
Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.), a member of the Ethics Committee who voted to expel Santos, even told other members that he and others on the panel might have considered resigning from its ranks if the Santos expulsion effort failed.
Asked about that prospect, Garbarino replied that “people were frustrated with how leadership handled this entire thing. We were tasked to do this. We came out with a report. … If this was not the standard to remove someone, why even have an Ethics Committee?”
Multiple Republicans who planned to support Santos’ expulsion or were on the fence switched to no votes when leadership made its position known, according to interviews ahead of Friday’s vote. But others in the GOP made clear that they opposed expulsion out of concern about setting a new institutional standard to eject members from public office before a criminal conviction — not out of any desire to support Santos.
“When you look back at others who have been in legal trouble — [former Rep.] Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is a glaring example of this, it was literally tax fraud, and he was censured. I’m just afraid of what this portends for the future,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) said.
Asked whether leadership should have tried to protect Santos from the ouster effort, Huizenga defended top Republicans, arguing that he is “awfully hard to protect.”
“He is not a high quality individual. Let’s put it that way,” Huizenga said. “I’m afraid of the continued weaponization of procedures and rules and precedents. That’s why I don’t think this is good for the future of the institution.”
“Historically, votes of conscience are not whipped. I support that precedent. Speaker Johnson handled the expulsion issue very professionally,” said Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who had urged colleagues to vote against expulsion. Higgins declared that “the swamp won this battle.”
One GOP leader notably voted to repeal Santos — Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who will have to defend Santos’ now-open seat as well as the battleground seats of his New York critics as head of the House GOP campaign arm. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had to deal with the bulk of Santos’ headline-grabbing behavior this year, also voted to expel him.
Losing Santos’ vote shrinks the House GOP’s already-tiny margin to four seats, if all members are present and voting. Some Republicans saw that factor as integral to the last-minute no votes announced by Johnson and other leaders.
“I know they’re concerned with a four-seat majority and I think they probably concocted some arguments to help cover for that. But you can’t let a four-seat majority or a thirty-seat majority determine right or wrong,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said.
But Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), an increasingly vocal Johnson critic, argued ahead of the vote that failing to eject Santos would have hurt the Republican majority further.
Miller said he was “let down” that leadership planned to vote to keep Santos.
Santos was expelled on an overwhelming 311-114 vote. Five GOP members missed the balloting. When it completed, a somber-sounding Johnson read out the expulsion on the House floor — to applause from some of his own members, including Miller.
Jordain Carney and Ursula Perano contributed.
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