Embattled US congressman George Santos says he’ll not ‘stand by’ expulsion attempt

By Makini Brice and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Indicted U.S. Representative George Santos on Thursday was defiant ahead of an expected vote to expel him from Congress and lashed out at other lawmakers in what could be his final days on Capitol Hill.

“I will not stand by quietly. The people of Third District of New York sent me here. If they want me out, they’re going to have to go silence those people and take the hard vote,” Santos said on the House floor.

The 35-year-old first-term congressman, who has spent less than a year in Congress, faces criminal campaign-finance charges and has admitted to fabricating much of his biography. His fellow Republicans have scheduled a vote on his expulsion on Friday.

In a one-hour debate, Santos was joined in his defense by three Republicans, who largely argued against his expulsion on procedural grounds. Eight Democrats and Republicans called for his removal, including one lawmaker, Max Miller, who said he and other lawmakers had been victims of Santos.

“You, sir, are a crook,” Miller said.

Santos survived one expulsion vote earlier this month, but faces longer odds this time. A bipartisan congressional probe released after that vote found evidence that he spent campaign money on Botox, luxury brands such as Hermes, and on OnlyFans, an online platform known for sexual content.

That has prompted some of the Republicans who previously voted against removing him to withdraw their support.

Santos declined to comment on that report, but said at a news conference on Thursday morning that he was not wearing anything purchased with campaign funds.

Pointing at his shoes, he said, “These are six years old.”

Later in the day, Santos filed a motion to force an expulsion vote against Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman, who pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor charge of triggering a fire alarm before a vote. That is unlikely to succeed as it would need substantial Democratic support.

“This is just another meaningless stunt in his long history of cons, antics, and outright fraud,” Bowman said in a statement before Santos filed the motion.

Santos has said he will not run for reelection next year but has remained bellicose amid growing pressure that he step down. The drumbeat of scandal has left him isolated in Congress, where he sits on no committees and has little influence.

Santos predicted he would be forced out in Friday’s vote and said he was proud of his record in Congress. “I wish I could do more, (but) if this is it, this is it,” he said.

Without his seat, Republicans’ already slim 222-213 majority would narrow further. His district, which includes parts of New York City and its Long Island suburbs, is seen as competitive.

An election to fill his seat would be held within three months, according to New York state law.

At least 77 Republicans will have to vote for expulsion, along with the chamber’s 213 Democrats, to meet the two-thirds majority required under the U.S. Constitution.

Santos would be only the sixth member to be expelled from the House of Representatives, and the first who has not been convicted of a crime or fought for the Confederacy during the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War.

Santos’ troubles began shortly after his November 2022 election, when media outlets reported that he had not actually attended New York University or worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he had claimed during the campaign.

He also falsely claimed Jewish heritage and told voters his grandparents had fled the Nazis during World War Two.

That made Santos a pariah in the House and the butt of television comedians even before federal prosecutors charged him with an array of fraud and campaign-finance crimes.

In a 23-count indictment, they accuse him of inflating his fundraising totals in order to draw more support from the Republican Party, laundering funds to pay for personal expenses, and charging donors’ credits cards without permission.

Two former campaign aides have pleaded guilty to related fraud charges.

Santos denies wrongdoing, and his trial is scheduled for Sept. 9, 2024, shortly before the November elections that will determine control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Andy Sullivan; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)