Skip to content
The GOP Majority Runs Through New York
Go to my account

The GOP Majority Runs Through New York

Empire State Republicans move to expel Rep. George Santos to protect their turf in Congress.

Happy Friday! Just 73 days to the Iowa caucuses.

Up to Speed

  • An eye-popping poll from Quinnipiac University gauging a hypothetical three-way race between Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. found Kennedy in position to be a massive spoiler, with 39 percent support for the president, 36 percent support for the former president, and 22 percent support for Kennedy Jr. A Politico analysis this week of donors currently maxing out to Kennedy’s campaign found that more had previously given to Trump than to Biden.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu campaigned with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at a pair of Granite State events Thursday, where he joked (or did he?) that he is “getting closer every day” to endorsing her campaign. Sununu offered effusive praise for Haley’s campaign to reporters but said that “we’ll see about the whole endorsement thing down the road.” 
  • Florida Sen. Rick Scott endorsed Donald Trump for president Thursday, calling on the Republican Party to “unite behind his efforts to win back the White House.” The former president is additionally working to press his advantage against Ron DeSantis with an effort to flip state-level Florida lawmakers who had previously endorsed the Sunshine State governor, NBC News reported Wednesday. 
  • Texas Rep. Kay Granger, the longest-serving Republican woman in Congress and the powerful chair of the House Appropriations Committee, announced Wednesday she will not seek reelection in 2024. 
  • In the wake of weeks of open infighting among House Republicans, it’s suddenly Senate Republicans’ turn to pull out the knives. Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, protesting a Biden administration policy that reimburses military personnel for traveling to procure abortions, has for months placed a procedural block on quick Senate approval of military nominations and promotions, causing a logjam that has led to hundreds of stalled appointments. On Wednesday night, a group of Senate Republicans tried for hours to pass a group of top military appointments through, calling for unanimous consent on 61 individual nominees. Tuberville stood by to spike every one. 
  • Some defense hawks have quietly discussed working with Democrats to change Senate rules and break Tuberville’s procedural blockade. But they’ve met with blistering resistance in conservative media. And a Tuberville staffer spent last week trying to convince anti-abortion groups to threaten to primary any Republican who supported such a resolution. “In my opinion it is imperative for all of the groups to make clear, in some words, that any Republican who votes for this will be primaried,” Tuberville spokesman Steven Stafford wrote in an email obtained by Politico. “They only need nine squishes. And they will get there if we don’t act.”

Santos Survives, for the Moment

Rep. George Santos on the House floor on Wednesday, October 18, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. George Santos on the House floor on Wednesday, October 18, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Rep. George Santos—under indictment for a heap of financial crimes, embroiled in a monthslong Ethics Committee investigation, facing a boatload of both Democratic and Republican challengers to his blue-leaning seat—is probably not long for Congress.

But the beleaguered Long Island Republican will last at least a little longer: A Wednesday floor vote to expel him from the House failed over precedent concerns and a desire from both Republicans and Democrats to see the legal and committee processes play out. The final tally was 179-213—far short of the two-thirds threshold needed to remove a lawmaker.

The resolution to expel was brought by several of Santos’ New York brethren—fellow freshman Republicans from the New York City ’burbs who have long chafed under their proximity to his scandals. “Mr. Santos is a stain on this institution,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito said from the floor ahead of the vote, “and not fit to serve his constituents in the House of Representatives.”

The vote’s factional lines were blurry, with neither party whipping voters in either direction, although new House Speaker Mike Johnson pointed out last week on Fox News that Republicans’ razor-thin majority had “no margin for error” and that Santos was “due due process.” In the end, 24 Republicans supported expulsion, while 31 Democrats opposed it and 19 members voted present.

The resolution received an implicit rebuke from the House Committee on Ethics, which issued an unexpected statement on the eve of the vote saying its exhaustive investigation of Santos was nearing conclusion. According to the letter, the committee—which had devoted “countless hours” to the investigation, including interviewing 40 witnesses, authorizing 37 subpoenas, and reviewing more than 170,000 pages of documents—plans to “announce its next course of action” regarding Santos by November 17.

That letter sharpened some of the due-process concerns some members of both parties already had. “Neither the Ethics Committee nor the courts have finished adjudicating this,” Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat, tweeted after the vote. “In this country, one is presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. No exceptions.”

But the letter also gave Santos’ Republican foes a quick-approaching deadline for trying again. “I am confident the findings of the upcoming House Ethics Committee report on George Santos will expose Santos’ deceptions and outline what New Yorkers already know—that George Santos is a fraud unworthy of serving in public office,” D’Esposito said in a statement.

For his part, Santos sounded relieved after his stay of execution. “Tonight was a victory for due process, not me,” he tweeted Wednesday night. “This was never about me, and I’ll never let it become about me.”

The sentiment was slightly undercut by its accompanying picture: The House floor superimposed with a picture of a crown-wearing Santos, captioned “If you come for me, you best not miss.” That was seemingly a staff addition: Santos grouched to reporters that his tweet had gone out “with a f–king crown on” and later deleted the post. 

New York Republicans’ Tall 2024 Order

The New York gang that brought the expulsion resolution against Rep. George Santos—including not only D’Esposito, but also Reps. Nick LaLota, Marc Molinaro, Brandon Williams, and Mike Lawler—has often been in the news as Santos’ biggest Republican critics.

But those members are center-stage in the current Congress for another big reason. As some of the 2022 midterms’ biggest close-contest victors, each of whom won in a district President Joe Biden carried in 2020, they’re largely responsible for helping Republicans eke out their current four-seat majority—and they’re among House Democrats’ top targets as they try to turn the tables in 2024. 

Williams and Molinaro hail from upstate districts, while Lawler, LaLota, and D’Esposito represent chunks of the sprawling New York City suburbs on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley—fruitful territory for the GOP’s bedrock 2022 messaging about the cost of living and crime. But in 2024 they won’t be riding the coattails of former Rep. Lee Zeldin, who mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul in last year’s governor’s race. Instead each will face the headwinds of a Biden reelection contest.

The first order of business is expelling Santos, a political liability and personal irritant whose antics tend to suck up all the region’s political attention. LaLota told reporters at the Capitol Thursday that he and his colleagues expect to win more support for their expulsion resolution once the Ethics Committee publishes its findings: “A lot of my colleagues I had private conversations with, they wanted to hang their hat on something. They wanted to hang their hat on a guilty plea, a guilty finding of a jury or a judge, or an Ethics Committee finding.”

But dispatching Santos is only step one. The New York crew also needs to walk a fine line between supporting party priorities and establishing themselves as lawmakers willing to buck leadership when it comes to the interests of their district. 

During the embarrassing spectacle of the House’s speaker fight, Lawler in particular leapt for the opportunity to define himself as the anti-Matt Gaetz, growling that Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster had been “one of the stupidest moves in politics” and decrying the Florida congressman as a “charlatan” who should be kicked out of the Republican conference. (Not from Congress, a la Santos, it should be clarified.)

But like Gaetz, the New York group appreciates the negotiating heft a small coalition can have in a razor-thin majority. In fact, the group has undertaken one small policy rebellion that has lasted far longer than the speaker fight itself. As GOP representatives of blue-state suburbs—a rarer and rarer breed—D’Esposito, Lawler, and LaLota have embraced a signature issue that puts them well crosswise from most in their party: a desire to eliminate or alter the cap on the state and local tax deduction that Republicans put in place as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

Most Republican lawmakers hate the SALT deduction, which they see as a regressive handout that rewards high-tax blue states for squeezing their citizens. But the New York freshmen argue the policy helps middle-class people survive in states with a high cost of living—and since the summer, they’ve ground GOP tax legislation to a halt by threatening to withhold their votes from any package that doesn’t include a SALT change. 

“We understand that there are many members of this body that don’t feel that their states should subsidize high tax states like New York and California and New Jersey,” D’Esposito told The Dispatch Thursday. “We get that. But there has to be room for compromise … if you want to coin us as majority-makers and you want to grow that majority, and you want us all to return, then we need to follow through with the promises we made during the campaign.”

The New York crew has also served as a handbrake in another area: national abortion restrictions. Not only have they promised to oppose any such legislation that might come down the pipe, they’ve also already helped spike one piece of legislation touching the issue: a GOP ag appropriations bill last month that would have limited access to the abortion pill mifepristone. 

State Democrats “want to coin us as MAGA extremists. They want to coin us as individuals that want to take women’s rights away. It’s all nonsense,” D’Esposito says. 

Blocking party-backed legislation for months would usually bring down the wrath of House leadership on the holdouts. But majority makers are majority makers. 

Notable and Quotable

“Last night, the House saw its shadow. Unfortunately, this means there will be two more weeks of Santos.”Rep. Steve Womack, Arkansas Republican, November 2, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.