Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., says he’s not resigning. That is, if you believe him.
Still, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., isn’t doing anything about Santos. McCarthy will even assign Santos to House committees.
“I try to stick by the Constitution, and the voters elected him to serve,” said McCarthy. “He’s going to have to build the trust here, and he’s going to have the opportunity to try to do that.”
McCarthy noted that Santos “has a right to serve here.”
Santos is really putting House Republicans in a quandary over his fantastical stream of falsehoods. Most Republicans have said that Santos’ future is up to the people of his district. However, there are increasing calls from New York Republicans — notably freshman Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., Brandon Williams, R-N.Y., Nick Langworthy, R-N.Y., and Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., — for Santos to resign.
Langworthy also serves as the Empire State’s GOP chairman.
Here’s the operational problem for House Republicans:
Their majority is now 222-212. Democrats are expected to win a special election in Virginia on Feb. 21 to fulfill the unexpired term of late Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., who died shortly after voters reelected him last November.
A Democratic win in Virginia would shrink the GOP majority to 222-213. It dwindles to 221-213 if Santos weren’t a member and Democrats win the Virginia special election.
It’s about the math.
That would mean Republicans can only lose three votes on any given roll call. By rule, a tie vote fails in the House.
Democrats are already tying Santos to McCarthy and his tight victory for the speakership.
If Santos were to resign, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) must declare the seat vacant and schedule a special election in accordance with state law. A primary and general election could take months. Governors are allowed to appoint U.S. senators. But under the Constitution, no one scores an appointment to the House.
Secondly, it is unclear if Republicans would hold the Santos seat if he were to vacate and Hochul called a special election. This is a district that flipped from blue to red. It was held by former Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., in the previous Congress.
So, what are GOPers to do about Santos?
The easy alternative for Republicans would be to wait for the House Ethics Committee to conduct an investigation and recommend a penalty for Santos. We may know the winner of the 2023 World Series before that investigation is complete.
However, any member could introduce a resolution to potentially punish or expel Santos.
This is where things get interesting.
Such a step is considered under a provision in the House known as a “question of privilege.” By rule, the House is required to consider such a resolution to sanction or expel Santos within two days — whether or not Santos goes before the Ethics Committee. However, the House must consider the issue immediately if offered by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
But Jeffries doesn’t seem inclined to act. Politically, it may be better for Democrats to let Santos drag House Republicans into the ethical quicksand and fantasyland.
“It’s now the responsibility of House Republicans to do something about it,” said Jeffries. “Clean up your house. And you can start with George Santos.”
Still, if any House member offered a resolution to punish or expel Santos on the fly, Republicans would have a decision to make. A tricky one.
Republicans could move to “table” or kill the resolution to punish or expel Santos. A vote to “table” is one parliamentary step removed from actually taking action on the resolution itself. A vote to table serves as a fig leaf for members who don’t want to be on the hook for judging Santos. If the House effectively votes in favor of tabling, it euthanizes the resolution to penalize Santos.
However, a vote to table could come at a serious political cost for Republicans.
Democrats and many GOPers may excoriate the House majority for not punishing or expelling Santos when they had the chance. And not acting creates a chasm for Democrats to chastise Republicans. The suggestion is that Republicans must protect Santos in order to safeguard their slim majority.
“Kevin McCarthy owns George Santos, lock, stock and barrel,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. “If George Santos wasn’t seated, what would the math have been for Speaker McCarthy? He would have had to flip another vote or get two people to vote ‘present.'”
This isn’t the type of issue House Republicans want to tangle with to begin the Congress, especially after the GOP just incinerated five days trying to elect a speaker.
It’s also possible Republicans could move to counter a privileged resolution to sanction Santos by “referring” the measure to the Ethics Committee. That gives GOPers a little more breathing room. It also bottles up the Santos problem for months on end.
Dispatching Santos to the Ethics panel probably gives Republicans some political cover. They could argue that they are dealing with Santos properly by referring him for an Ethics Committee review. But sending the matter to the Ethics Committee also allows the Santos question to fester.
That may not be a good political alternative for Republicans, either.
However, all of the attention on Santos could recalibrate public attention from the internecine fighting between Republicans during the speaker’s race.
There are three customary modes of discipline in the House: reprimand, censure and expulsion.
Former Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., was the last member censured by the House in late 2010.
Expulsion is a different animal.
The House has only expelled five members in history. The last was the late Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, in 2002. Under the Constitution, expulsion requires a two-thirds vote of the House.
An up or down vote on any punishment — or expulsion — could be a challenging roll call for some Republicans. The same with a vote to table or refer the resolution to the Ethics Committee. That could be viewed as trying to shield Santos.
“What are the charges against him?” asked a credulous McCarthy when speaking to reporters. “In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
McCarthy eschewed the trappings of the House Radio/TV Gallery Studio for his first formal meet-up with the press corps as speaker on Thursday. Instead, McCarthy met with scribes in Statuary Hall of the Capitol — the old House chamber.
“(This) is my favorite place in this building,” beamed McCarthy.
The speaker then noted that a statue of Clio, the Muse of History, was perched from a ledge overlooking Statuary Hall. The statue depicts Clio holding a tablet, scribbling down the events that transpire in Congress below.
“Clio continues to inscribe what has happened in the last five days,” McCarthy said.
And the watchful eye of Clio will also document what Congress does or doesn’t do when it comes to George Santos.