It’s one thing for a politician to engage in a little embellishing. But it’s another thing altogether for them to fabricate their entire resume.
Long Islanders elected New York Republican George Santos to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District in the 118th United States Congress. At least, they thought they did. The person who has been seated as a member of the House of Representatives bears virtually no resemblance to the man Santos portrayed himself to be. Confronting then-representative-elect George Santos about his many, many lies, Tulsi Gabbard put the question to him directly: “Do you have no shame?”
Apparently not. So far, Santos is rejecting the idea of resigning. Calls are coming from both sides of the aisle to kick him out of Congress, despite his just having taken the oath of office. But is that even an option?
You bet it is.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!
Let’s start with only some of Santos’ fabrications. While running for office, Santos represented himself to the Republican Jewish Coalition to be Jewish and that his maternal grandmother was a Holocaust refugee in Brazil. He professed to have graduated from Baruch College in New York City and that he had worked at both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. He bragged about being the first openly gay Republican to defeat an incumbent. And he claimed he spent his spare time helping with an animal-rights charity, Friends of Pets United.
Turns out virtually none of that’s true. Santos’ grandmother was Brazilian. Baruch has no record of Santos’ supposed attendance. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup have no record of Santos ever working for them. Perhaps Santos is gay, but he neglected to tell voters about his yearslong marriage to a woman. According to the New York Times, The IRS has never heard of Friends of Pets United. When reports came out that Santos was Catholic and not Jewish, rep-elect George Santos said that what he really meant was that he was “Jew-ish.”
The bottom line is that voters in Long Island have been had by the congressman-elect. The Nassau County District Attorney is opening an investigation. If Santos would lie about so many basic, easily disprovable facts, how can they possibly have any confidence that he will represent them with honesty and integrity? But they’re not necessarily stuck with him for the next two years.
Could the House Have Refused to Seat Santos?
Some lawmakers have argued that the House didn’t have to seat Santos. But the Constitution limits the power of Congress to refuse to seat duly elected officials. According to Article 1, section 5, clause 1, “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members. . . .” Congress gets to decide whether a candidate has been duly elected.
But rep.-elect George Santos was duly elected. Despite his lies, a majority of voters voted for him. There hasn’t been any question raised about the counting or certification of votes; rather, the controversy stems from the claims Santos made to get those votes. So Congress really doesn’t have the power to refuse to seat the Member duly elected by the people of Long Island. Candidates can tell falsehoods all they want and still be seated as members of Congress.
But that doesn’t mean they get to stay there.
Can the House Expel Santos?
The House may have had to seat Santos, but it can still kick him out. It only needs to read the second clause of Article 1, section 5. According to that clause, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” All it takes to kick a member out is the vote of two-thirds of the chamber.
Although some have argued that this shouldn’t apply to conduct that occurred prior to an election, the text of the Constitution is clear. It doesn’t distinguish between conduct occurring before an election and conduct that occurs while the member is in office. Based on this language, two-thirds of the House could get together and decide to kick a member out because they don’t like the color of their eyes. They just need 290 votes.
But Will the House Expel Santos?
So the House has the power to send Santos back to Long Island — if he even lives there — before he has the time to unpack his bags. The obstacle, as always, is politics. Santos is a Republican. House Republicans control the chamber in the new Congress, but only by the slimmest of margins (222 Republicans — 213 Democrats). Republicans concerned about maintaining a majority may be unwilling to expel a fellow republican and narrow that margin. So far, GOP leadership has been conspicuously tight-lipped about the controversy. Kevin McCarthy, who is in the fight for House Speaker, has been silent.
Only five members of the House (four democrats and one republican) have ever been expelled in the history of the U.S. Congress. But with public pressure being what it is, Santos might want to think about renting his place month-to-month for now. The House Ethics Committee will certainly have its hands full.
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