8 min read

The Santos saga nears its end

After almost a year of scandal, George Santos is expected to become the sixth person ever expelled from the House.
The Santos saga nears its end

Good morning! It’s Thursday, November 30, 2023. The 2024 elections are 341 days away. The Iowa caucuses are 46 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

In the recent history of the U.S. Congress, there have been few members as colorful as Jim Traficant.

Known for his unruly hair — later revealed upon his imprisonment to be a toupee — and his rambling speeches, which often ended with a “Star Trek” reference (“Beam me up, Mr. Speaker”), the Ohio Democrat was a favorite of the press, never failing to grab headlines or TV segments.

Of course, for the past 11 months, Rep. George Santos (R-NY) has given Traficant a run for his money.

There was his anti-vaccine mandate MINAJ Act (named for Nicki, of course), his State of the Union run-in with Mitt Romney, his appearance at Donald Trump’s arraignment — and who could forget his screaming match with a protester while holding a mystery baby? Like Traficant with his cowboy boots and polyester suits, Santos also developed a trademark uniform, reliably spotted around Capitol Hill in a blue blazer and knit sweater.

In Traficant’s case, at least one reporter later referred to his bizarre antics as essentially a “cover story”: an attention-grabbing mirage to distract from the criminal conduct he was engaging in behind closed doors. Eventually, the mirage collapsed: in 2001, he was indicted on 10 charges of tax evasion, bribery, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. The next year, he was convicted, after opting to represent himself at the trial.

The colorful (and criminal) Jim Traficant. (Columbus Dispatch)

Santos’ behavior has likely been part distraction campaign as well — but the difference is that it has always been transparently so. Santos wasn’t a colorful character later revealed to be dishonest: his troubles with the truth have been apparent since the moment he arrived in Washington. In fact, they’re what transformed the freshman congressman into a national figure in the first place, when the New York Times reported just weeks before his swearing-in: “Who Is Rep.-Elect George Santos? His Résumé May Be Largely Fiction.”

That first Times story was followed by reams of evidence of Santos’ lies — about his education, his work background, his family, his religion, his mother’s death, the list goes on — and later two indictments on 23 fraud-related charges.

As soon as today, Santos is likely to join Traficant in a rare club: as one of the few House members ever to be expelled.

Out of the more than 11,000 men and women to serve in the House of Representatives, only five have had the dubious honor of being cast out of Congress by their colleagues.

The first three — Reps. John Clark (D-MO), John Reid (D-MO), and Henry Burnett (D-KY) — were expelled at the outset of the Civil War for backing the Confederacy. The fourth was Rep. Michael Myers (D-PA), who was kicked out of the House after being convicted of bribery.

The fifth was Traficant, after his 2002 conviction. No member of the House has been expelled since.

Santos is now expected to become No. 6, when the House votes either today or tomorrow on a resolution by House Ethics Committee chairman Michael Guest (R-MS) to eject him. Expulsion requires a two-thirds vote, which means at least 77 Republicans would have to join all 213 Democrats in favor. According to Politico, nearly 90 House Republicans either plan to support the resolution or are likely to.

The New York Republican previously survived two expulsion attempts, but this one is likely to succeed because the Ethics Committee has now completed its investigation. Earlier this month, the panel released a bipartisan report laying out a range of misdeeds by Santos, including using campaign funds for personal purposes. (Traficant was accused of the same, although not for Botox treatments and OnlyFans subscriptions like Santos.)

The fact that George Santos, with an almost completely falsified biography, made it to the House of Representatives at all will always be an extraordinary footnote of American politics.

His unlikely ascension has many causes: the ineptitude of New York Democrats; the decline of local news. (Although the North Shore Leader deserves credit for its early reporting on the matter.) But his downfall was probably inevitable from the start.

Still, Santos is determined to stay until the bitter end. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has reportedly urged the fabulist to resign, hoping his members can avoid the politically awkward vote on whether to expel him. Santos has declined. “I’m going to make these guys take the vote,” he said on Tuesday.

At a press conference this morning, he announced plans to introduce an expulsion resolution of his own, against Rep. Jamal Bowman (D-NY) for falsely pulling a fire alarm. (Expulsion resolutions, if introduced as privileged, must receive a vote within two days. It is unclear if that rule applies if the introducing member is themself expelled in the interim.)

Santos’ defiance is reminiscent of another embattled congressman. “I’ll go to jail before I resign and admit to something I didn’t do,” Traficant said before his expulsion, refusing to step down of his own accord. (He later got his wish.) “My people elected me, and I don’t think you should take their representative away,” he also told his colleagues, a similar message as Santos has been sounding this week.

If Santos is ultimately ousted, the Twitter-happy congressman will likely have a snappy retort ready. But he will have a difficult time meeting the rhetorical bar set by Traficant, who once referred to his fellow lawmakers as “political prostitutes.”

In fairness, he later apologized — “to all the hookers of America for associating them with the United States Congress.”

Ask Gabe: What happens now?

Receiving a pension in prison. (DALL-E)

Q: “Will George Santos receive a pension for life along with free health care for his ‘service’ in Congress? What are the criteria for our elected representatives to receive these benefits?” Richard M.

A: Nope. Expulsion or not, Santos is not running for re-election, which means — at most — he will serve two years in Congress. Members are only eligible for pensions if they serve at least five years in office. (They are eligible at age 62 if they serve five years, at age 50 if they serve 20 years, or at any age if they serve 25 years.)

If Santos had already served for more than five years, though, expulsion by itself wouldn’t be enough to revoke his pension. However, per the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 — which was passed after public outrage that Traficant and other corrupt lawmakers still received pensions — lawmakers lose their pensions if they are convicted of bribery, fraud, or other public corruption charges.

That means that Santos — in the hypothetical world where he had served longer in Congress — would have kept his pension if he was expelled, but then lost it if he went on to be convicted of the charges currently pending against him.

Q: “What happens if Santos is expelled? Is the seat technically vacant, or does he still technically hold it but he can’t do anything?” Christa V.

A: If Santos is expelled, his seat will automatically be declared vacant, as though he resigned. By state law, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) will then be required to set a special election date within 10 days of the expulsion.

Instead of holding a regular primary, the county party committees would choose the nominees for the special election, which will likely take place sometime in February.

More news to know.

Henry Kissinger in 2016. (LBJ Library)

🌎 Henry Kissinger, who shaped American foreign policy while serving as both Secretary of State and National Security Advisor in the Nixon administration, died Wednesday at age 100. (CNN)

🇮🇱 Israel and Hamas extended their ceasefire for a seventh day, just minutes before it was set to expire. (Reuters)

📈 The U.S. economy grew at a 5.2% annualized rate last quarter, an even stronger performance than expected. (CNBC)

❌ House Republicans plan to vote in the coming weeks to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. (WaPo)

📑 One of Donald Trump’s attorneys told Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team that she “very clearly” told him that he’d be breaking the law if he failed to comply with a subpoena for classified documents — which prosecutors allege he later did. (ABC)

🔁 Vivek Ramaswamy’s national political director has defected to the Trump campaign. (The Messenger)

🗳️ A grand jury in Arizona indicted two Republican county supervisors for initially refusing to certify last year’s midterm election results. (Axios)

🦈 After sparking presidential speculation with his latest moves — selling the Dallas Mavericks and leaving “Shark Tank” — Mark Cuban says he has “no plans” to seek the White House. (CNBC)

🏥 U.S. life expectancy rose by more than a year in 2022, but at 77 years, 6 months is still 16 months lower than what it was before Covid. (AP)

The day ahead.

Last year’s National Christmas Tree lighting. (White House)

President Biden will meet with President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço of Angola to discuss a U.S.-backed infrastructure project that would stretch from Angola to Zambia, setting up a trade route to transport key materials needed for electric vehicles.

Biden will also participate in the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the White House lawn. Hopefully it stays up this time.

The Senate will hold votes to confirm Shanlyn Park’s nomination as a U.S. District Judge for Hawaii and to advance Irma Ramirez’s nomination as a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit.

The House will vote on the Protecting Our Communities from Failure to Secure the Border Act, which would prohibit the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service from using federal lands to house undocumented immigrants.

The chamber will also vote on the No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act, which would freeze the $6 billion that Iran was supposed to receive access to as part of a September prisoner swap. The Biden administration said after the October 7 attack by Hamas, which is funded by Iran, that Tehran would not receive the money.

Finally, votes are possible on the measure to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY) and a resolution to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to authorize subpoenas for Harlan Crow, the conservative billionaire with ties to Justice Clarence Thomas, and Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo as part of its investigation into Supreme Court ethics.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) will participate in a debate moderated by Sean Hannity. The event — which is being marketed as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate” — will air on Fox News at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

Thanks for reading.

I get up each morning to write Wake Up To Politics because I’m committed to offering an independent and reliable news source that helps you navigate our political system and understand what’s going on in government.

The newsletter is completely free and ad-free — but if you appreciate the work that goes into it, here’s how you can help:

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.‌‌‌‌

Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.‌‌‌‌

— Gabe