McCarthy was ditched and Santos expelled. The House is making history, but not as the GOP envisioned
Dec 1, 2023, 10:06 PM
(AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is making history this year in ways that Republicans could hardly have envisioned when the party took control.
First, the Republicans voted to oust their speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in October. On Friday they voted to get rid of one of their own, indicted Rep. George Santos of New York.
Never before had a House majority voted to evict its speaker, and not since the Civil War had the chamber voted to expel a member who was charged but not yet convicted of a crime.
The result has been a dizzying 11 months in a House majority riven by infighting, chiseling away at the powers of Congress and taking its toll on the actual business of governing.
As the year comes to a close, the arc of power for House Republicans is at an inflection point, a new era of performance politics and chaotic governing that shows no signs of easing.
“Is it messy? Yeah, sure,” said Republican Rep. Mike Lawler, among the New Yorkers who led the ouster of Santos. “But when you’re actually governing in a democratic republic, it can be messy.”
In many ways, Santos is a product and practitioner of a new way of governing, a system that rewards big personalities who rise to prominence with charismatic if often extreme public personas rather than the quieter work that governs the nation.
Instead of shying from the exposure, Santos, who is accused of fabricating much of his life story, embraced his moment in history, another segment of his celebrity run in Congress.
Before the House vote, Santos held a news conference on the Capitol steps, breezily answering questions about his future (he did not plan to seek reelection) and whether his shoes were purchased illegally with campaign funds (he said they were several years old).
He defended himself against the “bullying” and decried the “smear” against him.
“This is my battle,” Santos said, acknowledging he would have done “a lot” of things differently.
Santos doubled down on his own personal narrative, not as the fraudster he is charged with being, but as the representative of the New Yorkers who sent him to Congress and who, he argued, are the ones who should decide whether or not to remove him.
“I came in here as a mad-as-hell activist who was just disenfranchised,” he said. “I leave here, no regrets.”
His quick ascent in politics as an outsider modeled partly after Donald Trump is reflective of this postmodern political era, and the power of a single lawmaker to become famous for being famous.
Santos joined a diverse class of younger freshmen lawmakers who were changing the face of the GOP. His celebrity status only rose after the outrageous embellishments he made about his background, his experience, even his family heritage came to light.
Essentially, the bulk of the Santos life story appears to have been made up. A scathing House Ethics report found “overwhelming evidence” of lawbreaking by Santos, including questionable campaign expenditures on items like Botox. He has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he duped donors.
His swift downfall shows the GOP’s willingness to turn on its own, particularly when it is politically expedient, even at the risk of losing another dependable vote from their slim majority that now teeters amid retirements.
But Republicans split over ousting Santos just as they did earlier in October over the removal of McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker.
“One was a mistake and one was righteous and necessary,” said Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., about the two votes. “What we did today was righteous and necessary if we are going to claim the mantle of being the party of accountability.”
But Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who orchestrated McCarthy’s ouster, led a wing of Republicans defending Santos’ right to his day in court.
The roll call became a test for the new Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who told lawmakers they should vote their conscience, as leaders do to signal there is no preferred party position.
There was a moment during the two days of debate when it seemed as if Santos might be able to hang on. But in the end, even the supportive votes from leadership were not enough, and more than the two-thirds required tally in the House voted to expel him.
Time is slipping for other year-end business in Congress, including passage of the annual spending bills needed to prevent a government shutdown. The risk of shutdowns has hovered all year and the next deadline for funding is Jan. 19.
Johnson told lawmakers they would next soon turn to a vote to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden over the business dealings of his son Hunter.
A vote could come as soon as next week, but it’s uncertain that the House, now down a Republican member, will have enough votes for that next priority, historic impeachment proceedings.