The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted in favor of referring a Democratic-led motion to expel Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., from Congress to the Ethics Committee.
The vote, 221-204, was along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats preferring an immediate vote to expel him, a move that would require a two-thirds majoriity. A handful of Democrats voted present and Santos himself voted to put his potential expulsion in the hands of the Ethics Committee.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Santos thanked Republican leadership "for allowing this procedure."
"The reality is there is a procedure, you can't be judge, jury and executioner," Santos said Wednesday. "I have a right a constitutional right to defend myself. And I will do that. And I look forward to doing that I look forward to seeing the process play out. And if the Ethics Committee finds a reason to remove me, that is the process."
"This is the appropriate way to do this. I think that this was the right decision for all of us. And I look forward to continuing to defend myself," he added. "Again, innocent until proven guilty. That is a right that we all have."
Republicans backed the House Ethics referral along party lines, though some in Santos' own conference spoke out against him.
"I was one of the first members of this body to call on the subject of this resolution to resign. And I am personally in favor of this individuals expulsion from this house. Regrettably, however, I'm in the understanding that we currently do not have the two-thirds support from members in this house to expel that individual," Rep. Anthony D'Esposito, R-N.Y., said right before the vote, explaining why an Ethics Committee referall was necessary. "I believe that this individual is a stain on this institution, a stain on the state of New York, a stain on [Long Island] and a stain on the beloved Nassau County."
D'Esposito is a freshman Republican, elected in New York alongside six others including Santos last November, and represents a neighboring district on Long Island. He called for Santos to resign back in January, along with every other freshman Republican from the state, and has offered constituent services in Santos' district for those who prefer not to use their congressman's office.
"I firmly believe this is the quickest way reading the House of Representatives of this scourge on government," D'Esposito concluded.
Democratic Reps. Robert Garcia D-Calif. and Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., earlier Wednesday held a press conference to urge their colleagues on the other side of the aisle to move to expel Santos. The Ethics panel has been probing Santos since March.
“This is already in the Ethics Committee,” insisted Garcia Wednesday morning at a press conference at the Capitol. "We want an actual vote on the expulsion."
Garcia, who co-sponsored the resolution with Reps. Goldman, Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., Becca Balint, D-Vt., and Eric Sorensen, D-Ill., placed a “privileged resolution” on the floor Tuesday to circumvent the Republican majority in the House to force a vote within the next two days.
Garcia introduced the measure on Tuesday after Santos was arrested and charged in federal court last week with money laundering, wire fraud, theft of public funds and making false statements to Congress. Santos pleaded not guilty to all charges and pledged to "fight the witch hunt."
“The Ethics Committee should not be a graveyard where accountability goes to die,” Torres railed Wednesday. “The United States Constitution confers on both chambers of Congress the authority to expel members for misconduct and our enforcement of our own ethical standards need not be contingent on the outcome of a criminal investigation.”
Goldman specifically addressed reports that the Ethics Committee was waiting for criminal charges to be filed before moving forward with its investigation. As a former prosecutor, Goldman said it’s likely that the Department of Justice will step in and ask the ethics committee to pause their investigation in order to allow the criminal investigation to play out.
"Prosecutors are going to ask the Ethics Committee to pause and let their prosecution go first," Goldman said. "That’s what I did for 10 years, that is the nature of how these things work. And traditionally, the Ethics Committee will defer to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution and Kevin McCarthy knows that this is a complete fiction, to send it to the Ethics Committee, and that it is a cop-out, and that at the end of the day, it is a way of avoiding the accountability on this expulsion motion."
“To be clear, the criminal process should play out. No one is saying that George Santos stands here convicted of his crimes, but that is not the measure of whether or not he should be a member of Congress," he added.