Republicans had New Yorkers lead the way in expelling Santos. Will it help them keep the majority?
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves the Capitol after being expelled from the House of Representatives, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)
The Associated Press
Published Sunday, December 3, 2023 10:20AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — George Santos is gone from the House, but his name is certain to pop up in key congressional races across New York next year. Democrats are targeting five seats held by first-term Republicans and looking to associate them with their former colleague in the state's congressional delegation as often as they can.
How successful Democrats are in that effort could help determine which party holds the majority in the House in 2025.
The strategy of association was evident as Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York castigated Republicans in comments leading up to Santos' expulsion on Friday.
“Look, House Republicans knew a lot about George Santos before he was elected. And we have reason to believe either intentionally kept that information out of the public domain or willfully turned a blind eye,” Jeffries said. “And then, when the information exploded into the public domain, continue to coddle George Santos and play footsie with him for the better part of the year.”
The concern about Santos possibly tainting other Republican members' standing with voters was evident as New Yorkers made themselves front and center in the drive to expel Santos.
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican whose district borders Santos’ district, offered the expulsion legislation so that it had to be acted on within two days, even though it had been authored by a Mississippi lawmaker, GOP Rep. Michael Guest, chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
Those watching D'Esposito read the resolution on television saw Rep. Nick LaLota sitting to his left and Rep. Mike Lawler sitting directly behind him. Both are first-term lawmakers from New York whose districts favored Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Biden carried D'Esposito's district by more than 14 percentage points.
D'Esposito also led the debate for proponents of expulsion when the resolution reached the House floor. Santos led the debate for those arguing against the resolution. LaLota and Lawler also spoke, as did Rep. Marc Molinaro, another New York Republican who at one point grew exasperated as concerns were raised about the House setting a precedent of expelling members before they had their day in court.
“Dear God, Mr. Speaker, my future former colleague is divorced from reality,” Molinaro said. “He has manufactured his entire life to defraud the voters of his district of an honest choice for a member of Congress.”
Santos won his Long Island-based district with 54% of the vote, flipping a seat that had been held by the Democrats. But soon after, reports began to emerge that Santos had lied about having Jewish ancestry, a career at top Wall Street firms and a college degree. He turned into a distraction and an embarrassmen t to his party. Then came federal charges and the highly critical report from the House Ethics Committee. Santos has pleaded not guilty.
In an adjoining district, D'Esposito won with 52% of the vote, Lawler won a suburban district just north of New York City with 50% of the vote. Also able to generate close victories were Molinaro with 51% and Brandon Williams, also with, 51%.
In May, all five of the Republicans voted to refer to the Ethics Committee a Democratic-sponsored resolution to expel Santos. It was a party-line vote. In a second expulsion effort some six months later, all five voted for expelling Santos, and they did so again Friday.
Molinaro said he believes voters will move on from Santos and noted that 2024 is a presidential election year, with the race for the White House garnering more of the attention.
“George Santos is a dishonest fraud and should be judged based on his actions. The rest of us should be based on our actions,” he said.
D'Esposito made clear after offering the Republican-led expulsion resolution that GOP leadership agreed that members of the New York delegation should be seen as leading the effort.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., could be seen talking to the New Yorkers for several minutes before D'Esposito offered the expulsion resolution as a counterpart to a Democratic-led resolution earlier that day. After the vote, Johnson was headed to New York for fundraising events with several of the Republicans involved in removing Santos.
Asked why a New Yorker was offering a resolution sponsored by a congressman from Mississippi, D'Esposito said Guest “understood how important it is to New Yorkers, especially us freshmen.”
"We flipped seats that are important, that made this majority,” D’Esposito said. “And if we want to keep those seats, I think what we should do is rid ourselves of the stain that is George Santos.”
A special election for the Santos seat is likely to be held in mid-to-late February under a timeframe set by state law. Democrats will have a strong chance of winning back the seat. The already crowded field includes Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who previously represented the district before an unsuccessful run for governor.
Rep. Richard Hudson, chairman of the campaign arm for House Republicans, dismissed the threat of Santos tainting other Republicans. Hudson said voters next year will be caring about the toll of inflation and whether their kids are safe in their neighborhoods and at their schools.
“They are not going to care about who used to be the congressman from somewhere nearby,” said Hudson, R-N.C.
Democrats disagree and say the expulsion was too little, too late. Ellie Dougherty, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said New York Republicans spent months protecting Santos.
"Whether it’s on Long Island or in the Hudson Valley or Central New York, we’ll make sure voters know who’s responsible for enabling distrust and corruption ahead of next year’s elections — and that’s the Republican Party," she said.