(Bloomberg) -- The US House of Representatives voted to put George Santos’s fate in the hands of its Ethics Committee Wednesday, a maneuver that avoided an up-or-down vote on his expulsion that would have forced his Republican colleagues to publicly rebuke one of their own.
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The 221-204 vote was split exactly along party lines — with Santos himself voting to refer the matter to committee.
Democrats forced a vote on the expulsion resolution, which would have required a two-thirds vote to remove Santos, a New York Republican elected last November, from Congress — something that’s happened only five times.
Referring that measure to the Ethics Committee was largely an empty move, since the committee had already voted in late February to begin an inquiry. The panel said it was investigating Santos’s congressional campaign and whether he violated conflict of interest laws and engaged in sexual misconduct.
Sending the issue to the committee does buy House Speaker Kevin McCarthy time, during which he can continue to rely on Santos’s vote. Republicans control the chamber by just five of the 435 seats, and Santos was a crucial vote in making McCarthy House speaker and in passing a package of Republican proposals on the debt ceiling.
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Santos didn’t immediately return a request for comment. If he is expelled or resigns, New York Governor Kathy Hochul would call a special election to fill the seat in the district, which leans Democratic and includes parts of Long Island and the New York City borough of Queens.
A federal grand jury on Long Island indicted Santos last week on 13 counts of fraud and money laundering, accusing him of misleading donors about where their campaign contributions were going, falsifying financial disclosure reports, and taking unemployment benefits to which he wasn’t entitled.
Representative Anthony D’Esposito, a New York Republican, introduced the GOP motion to refer the Santos resolution to the Ethics Committee. He called Santos “a stain on this institution, a stain on the State of New York, a stain on Long Island and a stain on the beloved Nassau County.”
Yet D’Esposito said the expulsion resolution didn’t have the two-thirds support required by the Constitution, and so the ethics process was the best path to removing him from office.
McCarthy said Tuesday that enough information about Santos is publicly known for the committee to make a decision quickly. “I think they could come back to Congress faster than a court case could,” he said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed out, however, that four comparable cases took an average of 624 days for the Ethics Committee to resolve.
Representative Dan Goldman, a New York Democrat also elected last fall, said referring the resolution to committee was redundant and a cop-out. “It is simply an effort for Republicans to avoid having to take an up or down vote one whether George Santos belongs here,” he said.
In response to the effort to expel Santos, Representative Anna Paulina Luna, a Florida Republican, introduced a resolution to expel Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, over statements he made related to former President Donald Trump and Russia. She said she plans to force a vote at some point later in the Congress.
--With assistance from Erik Wasson.
(Updates with Luna resolution, in final paragraph.)
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