What Can the House Do to Address George Santos’s Falsehoods?
On the campaign trail, Representative-elect George Santos, a Republican who ultimately flipped a Democratic seat in New York, misled voters about his work and educational history, his family’s heritage, his past philanthropic efforts and his business dealings.
His litany of fabrications has raised questions as to whether Mr. Santos, who was elected last month to represent parts of northern Long Island and northeast Queens, will be allowed to take his seat next week when Congress convenes or thrown out once he is sworn in.
But House Republican leaders, who have so far remained silent amid the persistent questions about Mr. Santos, are unlikely to punish him in any significant way. Even if they could force him out of Congress, it would prompt a special election in a swing seat, setting up a potential blow to the party’s already precarious majority.
And Mr. Santos has pledged to vote for Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, for speaker next week as Mr. McCarthy faces a rebellion on the right and needs every vote he can get.
Here are some of the options for addressing Mr. Santos’s falsehoods.
Could the House refuse to seat him?
The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that a person who met the constitutional requirements for office in the House of Representatives could not be refused a seat once elected. In that case, Powell v. McCormack, the court suggested that a permissible remedy for the House, should it try to exclude one of its duly elected members, would be a vote to expel the lawmaker once he or she was seated.
House leaders could, in theory, band together to try to defy that precedent and force Mr. Santos to challenge the move in court. But Republicans have no appetite to do so.
Could he be expelled?
In theory, yes. Practically, probably not.
Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states that “Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”
While the Constitution grants the House broad authority to cast out one of its own, there has long been internal debate over whether lawmakers can be expelled for behavior from before they took office.
Some Republicans, for example, argued that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, should not have been stripped of her committees for her social media posts from before she was elected. In the posts, she endorsed executing top Democrats, suggested that a number of school shootings were secretly perpetrated by government actors, and repeatedly trafficked in antisemitic and Islamophobic conspiracy theories.
But House Republican leaders are unlikely to want to expel Mr. Santos in the first place.
Only 20 members of Congress have been expelled from either chamber: five from the House and 15 from the Senate, according to the Congressional Research Service. Seventeen of those expulsions were related to disloyalty to the United States during the Civil War era, occurring only after the secession of the Confederate states.
The others — including the most recent instance, the expulsion in 2002 of Representative James A. Traficant Jr., Democrat of Ohio — occurred after representatives were convicted on public corruption charges.
Could he be removed from office in some other way?
Mr. Santos could choose to resign if he faces pressure from party leadership to do so, or if he is placed under an ethics investigation and no longer wishes to bear the costs of legal representation and stress that come with those proceedings.
There is no mechanism for voters to recall a member of the House of Representatives.
What punishments could the House dole out?
The House Ethics Committee, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers who have historically shied from punishing their colleagues, has not commented on Mr. Santos’s case and is in a state of limbo until a new Congress is seated on Jan. 3. Its investigations are known to drag on for months or even years and seldom result in significant punishment.
Should House Republican leadership want to mete out some sort of punishment, they could move to censure him, a mostly symbolic gesture that requires a simple majority vote and sometimes is accompanied by a fine. After a lawmaker is censured, he or she must stand in the well of the House while a rebuke is read.
House Republican leaders could also choose not to seat Mr. Santos on any committees or to relegate him to backwater committees.