Will George Santos Face Any Consequences?

Rep. George Santos is seen in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, January 12, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

New York Rep. George Santos continues to rebuff calls to resign from dozens of lawmakers—including prominent Republicans from his state and district—as his flurry of scandals continues to grow. 

The freshman lawmaker is currently under criminal investigation and could face a variety of penalties from Congress, but whether fellow Republicans have the political will to punish Santos on their own remains to be seen.

Should his House colleagues choose to pursue them, Santos could face three main disciplinary actions in that chamber: expulsion, censure, and reprimand. Those would likely come from a recommendation from the House Ethics Committee. The panel’s rules state that “reprimand is appropriate for serious violations, censure is appropriate for more serious violations, and expulsion of a Member … is appropriate for the most serious violations.” The Ethics Committee can also sometimes recommend the House levy fines or other “monetary assessments” on a member in connection with these disciplinary actions.


Expulsion is the only one of those penalties outlined in the Constitution, which provides that each chamber of Congress may “punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” 

According to a 2016 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Constitution puts no limits on the House’s authority to expel a member other than the two-thirds vote threshold. But the measure is primarily “a matter of self-protection of the integrity of the institution and its proceedings,” according to CRS, and it has been used sparingly.

Only five members have been expelled from the House of Representatives, and the first three were for disloyalty to the Union during the Civil War. Most recently, Ohio Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant was expelled in 2002 after being convicted on 10 felony counts, including racketeering and conspiracy to commit bribery.

An expulsion doesn’t necessarily mean a former member is gone for good: Traficant attempted an independent bid to reclaim his congressional seat while in federal prison and got 15 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election (he came in third).

Given how rare expulsion is—and how narrow House Republicans’ current majority is—it’s unlikely Santos would be expelled. But each week seems to bring new Santos scandals.

“It’s definitely possible that more information could come to light such that continuing to tolerate his presence would just be too embarrassing for Republicans, especially if he were indicted,” said Philip Wallach, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Santos could face the lesser consequence of a censure, a “formal, majority vote in the House on a resolution disapproving a Member’s conduct,” according to CRS. To ratchet up the public shaming, the censured member must stand in the “well” of the House chamber as the speaker reads the censure resolution.

Censures are relatively rare too, with only 24 in the House’s history. The most recent came in November 2021 after Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar posted an anime video on social media depicting himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden. The resolution censuring Gosar and stripping him of his committee assignments was approved in a near-party-line vote. He won reelection in 2022 and has now been reinstated to committee duties under the new Republican majority.


Reprimand for “serious” ethics violations first became a separate category from censure in 1976, with the distinction that the member being reprimanded can stand “in his place” on the floor as the resolution is adopted rather than receiving a verbal rebuke at the “well” of the chamber as he would while being censured.

Although members were reprimanded in 2020 and 2012, the most notable reprimand of recent times came in 2009 after South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during an address to a joint session of Congress by President Barack Obama. The reprimand passed mostly along party lines and apparently made little impact on Wilson’s constituents: He has been reelected seven times since then.

The criminal justice system

It’s not just on Capitol Hill where Santos may face consequences. With ongoing criminal investigations, he could join plenty of other congressional members to face punishment via the criminal justice system.

In 1972 the Supreme Court case Gravel v. United States clarified that members of Congress “are immune from criminal or civil proceedings only for their official conduct or activities which are deemed to be ‘an integral part of the deliberative and communicative processes by which Members participate in committee and House proceedings,’” according to CRS. But that immunity doesn’t apply in Santos’ case, since his alleged misdeeds don’t have anything to do with his official duties as a member of Congress.

Currently, Santos is under investigation by both federal and local officials for possible fraud or campaign finance law violations.

But investigations take time—and for good reason.

“The Justice Department tends to treat these sorts of prosecutions and investigations of elected officials with some care, realizing the seriousness of targeting someone in that kind of position of public trust,” said Michael Thorning, the director of governance at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Also, the Justice Department will typically want to be very sure that they have a winning case, because to bring a prosecution against a high-profile individual like that and lose tends to be seen as an embarrassment for the Department.”

No consequences from the GOP

Beyond the criminal justice system and fellow House members, Santos will likely face few consequences before the next election cycle. Members of Congress cannot be recalled, and state and local Republican party organizations have virtually no formal authority over Santos beyond censuring him themselves. But Republicans seem eager to distance themselves from him, which could doom his reelection chances.

“I can’t imagine he has any serious prospects of reelection unless something really bizarre happens,” Wallach said, going on to describe the debacle as an indictment of the state of American democracy.

Santos “wants to say that he’s adequately representative just by embodying certain sort of populist Republican tropes and saying the right things,” Wallach said. “And meanwhile, the idea that he actually has to be a trusted member of the community that he’s supposed to represent has kinda gone out the window.”

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