Stefanik’s vote to keep Santos was a big misfire

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., waits for the start of a session in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington on Friday, Jan. 6. (AP photo — Alex Brandon)

North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik on Friday voted to keep her Republican colleague, Rep. George Santos, in Congress. Ultimately, he was ousted anyway, but to say this was a massive misfire on Stefanik’s part would be an understatement.

To even the most casual observer of politics, it’s clear that Santos has no place in Congress. If not for the very serious nature of the 23 federal counts against him — which include everything from wire fraud, money laundering, identity theft, theft of public funds and making false statements to the House — the expeditious unraveling of Santos’ lies could be seen as an entertaining made-for-Netflix spectacle starring a camp, quirky antagonist. Considering the images from Santos’ exit on Friday, whether it be his descent from the Capitol stairs surrounded by reporters or his incendiary jabs against fellow representatives on his way out, someone in Hollywood is probably already on it.

House rules require a two-thirds vote to eject a sitting member of Congress. The vote to oust Santos from Congress was bipartisan, with 311 representatives — including 105 Republicans — voting for the measure. Stefanik is among 114 representatives who voted against the expulsion, 112 of those votes from fellow Republicans.

In explaining the rationale for her vote, Stefanik said she felt ousting Santos would set a “dangerous precedent” and that she had concerns about “due process.”

“I have said from the beginning that this process will play out in the judicial system which it currently is,” Stefanik said in a statement.

It’s true that no lawmaker, at least since the mid-1800s, has been voted out of Congress without a criminal conviction. It’s also true that Santos is only the sixth representative in history to be expelled. But this “dangerous precedent,” as Stefanik calls it, impacts a man whose conduct was unprecedented in many ways.

History will remember the broader context: The evidence of Santos’ wrongdoing is clear and ever-expanding. He no longer has the public’s trust. One could reasonably argue that he never deserved it and that it was only through the failure of basic checks-and-balances that he ever had it in the first place. Nearly every part of his backstory, which underpinned his campaign, was completely fabricated. Beyond that, he’s accused of misusing public funds for his personal expenses.

Santos, like everyone else, is entitled to due process when it comes to his criminal prosecution. But this House vote was not a criminal prosecution; it was a necessary action that held Santos accountable for his lies. Each day his conduct was allowed to continue without this accountability, and each day he was allowed to continue to reap the benefits of his public salary, further discredited the important work of the House.

The report on Santos released by the House Ethics Committee on Nov. 16 was damning.

“A fundamental tenet of government service is that public office is a public trust,” the report’s introduction reads. “As noted in extensive detail below, the evidence uncovered by the Investigative Subcommittee revealed that Rep. George Santos cannot be trusted. At nearly every opportunity, he placed his desire for private gain above his duty to uphold the Constitution, federal law, and ethical principles.”

The report goes on to say that as a member of the House, “he must be held accountable to the highest standards of conduct in order to safeguard the public’s faith in this institution.”

Even the voters in Santos’ own district overwhelmingly agree that Santos should not have been in the House. According to a Newsday/Siena College poll in January, 83% of his constituents viewed him unfavorably — including 78% of Republican voters. Three-quarters of voters said they didn’t think he could be an effective representative and 78% said he should resign.

Stefanik endorsed Santos in August 2021. She called him her “friend and fellow America First conservative.” But personal and professional relationship aside, if Stefanik was Santos’ constituent, would she still feel that it’s preferable for him to continue to pull a public salary and vote on her behalf, given all the information that has now come to light? By removing Santos, House Republicans’ already slim majority has been made slimmer to 221-213 — it seems that Stefanik is doing exactly what she thinks is best for the Republican Party, not the American people.

Stefanik is not the only representative who deserves the blowback she will inevitably receive from this vote. The two representatives who voted “present” and the eight representatives who did not vote — including former House speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — deserve scorn, too.

Bottom line: Stefanik should have voted to expel Santos. It was the right thing to do.


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