The Curtain Falls on George Santos

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Written By Pinang Driod

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This morning, Republican Representative George Santos became the sixth House member in American history to be expelled from Congress. Though Santos managed to hang on to the support of the majority in his party, he was ousted in a 311–114 vote. I spoke with my colleague Russell Berman, who covers politics, about why some members voted not to expel Santos, and how much of an outlier he really is.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

  • Inflation is your fault.
  • Ron DeSantis debates his grievances.
  • Expelling George Santos was a mistake.

Republicans Find Their Line

Lora Kelley: How did we get to a place where Santos is being expelled, and how did he make it to Congress in the first place?

Russell Berman: George Santos ran in what should have been a high-profile, competitive race last year in Long Island. He was in a swing district that was fiercely contested because control of the House was on the line. And yet, he basically snuck into Congress without the scrutiny that comes with being a candidate in a competitive race. It was only a few weeks after his election that The New York Times reported that he’d basically lied about his entire résumé: He’d lied about getting degrees from Baruch College and New York University. He’d lied about working on Wall Street for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He’d even allegedly lied about having grandparents who’d fled Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, and he claimed that his mother was in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

When Santos arrived in Congress, in January, Republicans had a very thin majority. Kevin McCarthy needed Santos’s vote to become speaker, so he was unwilling to sanction him. Instead, he sent the issue to the House Ethics Committee, which spent months investigating Santos.

It turned out, his lies about his résumé were only the tip of the iceberg. According to the indictment that was filed in federal court, he used made-up loans and contributors’ credit-card information to inflate his campaign. The Ethics Committee also alleged that he’d exploited his congressional funding to benefit himself financially, spending money on things like OnlyFans and Botox. (Santos has generally denied the allegations and called the report a “smear,” but he has refused to address them specifically.) For many Republicans, the report was the last straw.

Lora: Santos has faced two previous expulsion attempts. Why did those votes fail while today’s passed?

Russell: Before Santos, the House had expelled only five members in its history. Those representatives were either members of the Confederacy during the Civil War or had been convicted of crimes in court. Santos has been accused of crimes, but he has so far not been convicted.

Politicians are sensitive to having their career upended based solely on accusations of wrongdoing. Before this ethics report came out, dozens of Democrats opposed Santos’s expulsion. They did not want to set this precedent that damning accusations were enough to expel somebody. A couple of Democrats ended up voting against expelling him today, and two voted present.

Many Republicans, similarly, said they were worried about precedent. That was the official reason for backing him, but it was, of course, wrapped up in congressional politics, as so many of these things are. The new speaker, Mike Johnson, along with basically the entire Republican leadership and the majority of Republican representatives, voted against expelling Santos. They still have a very narrow majority. Now there’s going to be a special election for Santos’s seat, and it’s certainly possible that a Democrat could replace him.

Lora: Did the fact that his alleged crimes were so brazen affect the calculus about voting him out?

Russell: Certainly, Republicans wanted to get rid of the headache and the drama. But Republicans have made plenty of drama on their own. So it’s hard to say that, by getting rid of this allegedly corrupt member, all of a sudden they’re going to have a smoothly functioning, business-oriented House of Representatives.

Santos had already announced that he’s not running for reelection, which, for some members, might have been a reason not to expel him. But for other members, the thinking was likely: If he’s not running, we might as well lance the boil now. There’s been such a circus atmosphere around him.

Lora: To what extent do you see him as representative of the Republican Party at this moment, versus a true outlier?

Russell: We’ve seen all of these performative, not very substantive members of Congress lately: Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert. Some of them seem to prioritize gaining followers on social media and getting on Fox News over passing bills. They don’t actually want to be legislators; they want to be political celebrities. In that sense, Santos was not unique.

But in the sheer breadth of his deception and lies, he was. We’ve seen corrupt members of Congress: people who have used campaign accounts for personal benefit, who have taken bribes. That’s as old as politics. But what we haven’t seen until now is someone who created their life story out of whole cloth.

Lora: What, if anything, will this change for Republicans?

Russell: I don’t think this changes much. The Republican Party was not even close to unanimous on this vote. Remember, at the same time that they’re holding Santos accountable, they are largely rallying around Donald Trump, who has been indicted in four different criminal cases, who is known to lie, and who has had all kinds of ethical lapses over the course of the past several years. I don’t think this is going to set any new precedent on the part of the Republican Party.

Related:

  • George Santos was finally too much for Republicans.
  • Expelling George Santos was a mistake.


Today’s News

  1. The Israel-Hamas war has resumed after a seven-day truce.
  2. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, has died at the age of 93.

Dispatches

  • Atlantic Intelligence: ChatGPT is celebrating its first birthday, Matteo Wong writes. For the past year, our brains have been trapped in its world.
  • The Books Briefing: Anthony Tommasini, the former chief classical-music critic for The New York Times, recommends books and music in conversation with Gal Beckerman.
  • Weekly Planet: Something big just happened at COP, Zoë Schlanger reports.
  • Work in Progress: Persistent employment misery is a myth, Derek Thompson writes. What if Americans are happy at work?

Explore all of our newsletters here.


Evening Read

Stephen Voss / Redux

What Kissinger Didn’t Understand

By George Packer

Henry Kissinger spent half a century pursuing and using power, and a second half century trying to shape history’s judgment of the first. His longevity, and the frantic activity that ceased only when he stopped breathing, felt like an interminable refusal to disappear until he’d ensured that posthumous admiration would outweigh revulsion. In the end none of it mattered. The historical record—Vietnam and Cambodia, the China opening, the Soviet détente, slaughter in Bangladesh and East Timor, peace in the Middle East, the coup in Chile—was already there. Its interpretation will not be up to him.

Kissinger is a problem to be solved: the problem of a very human inhumanity.

Read the full article.


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Culture Break

the back of a woman facing the water
Ireland, 1978 (Josef Koudelka / Magnum)

Read. Claire Keegan’s newest short-story collection, So Late in the Day, depicts her decades-long exploration of the shabby way the world treats women.

Watch. May December (streaming on Netflix) is a beautiful, terrible nesting doll of a story with a uniquely twisted core.

Play our daily crossword.


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Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.

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