The House of Representatives in 2023 has often been its own worst enemy. But on Friday, members of both parties came together to do something obviously good for their institution: By a 311-114 vote, they expelled George Santos from their ranks. The con man who lied his way into office and made a spectacle of himself at every opportunity will have to await his criminal prosecution as a mere social media personality. His days posturing as a public servant are over.
The charges Santos faced, as laid out in a House Ethics Committee report, are truly jaw-dropping. Along with a bevy of serious but boring offenses like misreporting financial assets and campaign donations, the report details more salacious exploits, including stealing donors’ contributions and blowing official funds on Ferragamo, Hermes, Vegas vacations, spa visits, and even OnlyFans. Being a candidate for and member of the House has been one long joyride for Santos.
Without wanting to defend Santos on any of these charges, some members (including all top Republican leaders) nevertheless opposed his expulsion, saying that it sets the House up to continuously second-guess voters by reacting to unsubstantiated charges. In their eyes, only criminals ought to be expelled, and only the judicial process is capable of fairly determining criminality. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, for example, said Santos is “going to have his day in court, which he deserves,” and leadership suggested to members that proceeding against Santos without a conviction is “problematic.”
But this objection misses the most compelling justification for ejecting Santos: He utterly failed to act as a representative of his constituents in New York’s 3rd District. His continued presence in the House was an affront to the very idea of representative government. Because, for all his willingness to misrepresent himself, Santos could barely be bothered to pretend he cared for the concerns of the citizens of Queens and Long Island who were so unfortunate to put their trust in him.
There were many signs of Santos’ neglect of his constituents. New Yorkers of every description, including 68 percent of Republicans, were overwhelmingly against his continuation in office. His work as a legislator is all but negligible—he stepped down from his committee assignments at the end of January (less than a month after he was sworn in). His official website bragged that “George perused a long path” to achieve his (fantastical) business achievements, while offering literally nothing on pages related to “Energy” and “Economy.”
Surprisingly, Santos did introduce dozens of bills, but most were attempts to latch onto headline-grabbing developments rather than address real-world problems. The “Deep State Accountability Act,” for example, would provide for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the signatories of an October 2020 public letter regarding Hunter Biden’s emails. The “Executive Mental Competency Protection Act” would require the president’s doctor to probe the chief executive’s faculties each year. Explaining the name of his MINAJ Act, which would have prevented vaccine mandates for new drugs, Santos told a CBS News interviewer that his aim in invoking a popular rap artist was to “make sure that we can get pop culture meets politics,” to generate interest from “layman people” who generally find the workings of Washington boring. Such antics have helped keep Santos in the public eye, but they have not impressed his colleagues. For the 40 bills and resolutions he introduced, he got all of one cosponsor (Paul Gosar) for a single one.
It’s instructive to compare Santos to the last member to get the boot from the House. James Traficant, a wild-eyed Democrat, was convicted of 10 felonies—including taking bribes—before the House voted in 2002 to end his 17-year run as a representative. Like Santos, Traficant was given to outlandish, attention-seeking stunts. But unlike the New Yorker, Traficant was accepted as an avatar of the Youngstown, Ohio, community that he represented. In his tireless promotion of unionized workers and championing of “Buy American” requirements, he gave voice to the authentic desires of his constituents. His office was known to be especially responsive. People knew he was a jerk—but they believed, not without reason, that he was their jerk.
On his best days, Santos offered an unconvincing imitation of this kind of populism, casting himself as a champion of underdogs everywhere. More often, he seemed like he was auditioning to be a spare part in a reality-TV show.
He may yet prosper in such a capacity, but it is heartening that a strong bipartisan majority has now declared, in no uncertain terms, that the House will not play host to such shoddy performances. Politics is not about authenticity, exactly, but representation cannot work without trust. That Santos imagined he could simply bypass the need for trust by heading straight for flashy outrage does not speak well of the current state of our politics. That his erstwhile colleagues had the sense to send him packing should give us some hope.