House Republican leaders on Wednesday avoided an on-the-record vote on whether GOP Rep. George Santos should be expelled, instead holding a vote to move the Democratic-proposed resolution to the House Ethics Committee.
The full House adopted the Republican motion by a party-line vote of 221-204, with seven members voting present.
All five Republicans on the House Ethics Committee voted in favor of the motion, while the Democrats on the committee all voted present. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash., also voted present.
Rep. Anthony D'Esposito, R-N.Y., who represents a district that neighbors Santos', offered the motion to refer in a blistering speech that condemned Santos as "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."
"I am personally in favor of this individual's expulsion from this House," D'Esposito said in a floor speech Wednesday. "Regrettably, though, 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. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., offered a resolution to expel Santos from the chamber. But Republicans weren't expected to vote on that resolution after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he would hold a vote to refer the resolution to the Ethics Committee, which has been conducting their own investigation into Santos.
"I think we can look at this very quickly and come to a conclusion on what George Santos did and did not do through Ethics, a safe bipartisan committee, equal number of Republicans and Democrats, and I think that's when you bring it back to Congress if it rises to the ability," McCarthy said at a press conference Tuesday.
House Democratic leaders had instructed their members to vote no on referring the resolution to the House Ethics Committee. Garcia said his resolution to expel Santos was about putting Republicans on the record.
"There hasn't been action, and so now's the appropriate time to make sure that Republicans are on record if they're going to actually stand by someone that is a serial liar and a fraud. And they're gonna have to record a vote, and the American people will be watching their votes," Garcia said Tuesday.
Santos said in March that he would comply "100%" one day after the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to establish an "Investigative Subcommittee" to look into the claims made against Santos.
Following Wednesday's voting, Santos told reporters that he believed referring the resolution to the ethics panel was the best path forward.
"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," Santos said to ABC News at an impromptu press conference that was interrupted by heckling lawmakers.
"I think that this was the right decision for all of us, and I look forward to continuing to defend myself. Again, innocent until proven guilty. That is a right that we all have," he said.
When asked if he'll resign if the Ethics Committee recommends it, he said, "Of course."
Santos also claimed he was hard at work doing his job despite being under multiple investigations.
Among the accusations the House ethics subcommittee has been examining are whether Santos "engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office," according to a news release from the House Ethics Committee.
The congressman has previously acknowledged lying about some parts of his background, specifically about graduating from college -- which he did not -- but he has insisted his behavior was similar to routine resume embellishment. He has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct or any criminal wrongdoing.
Santos was indicted last week on 13 criminal counts, including seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York said.
He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Twenty members of Congress have been expelled, 17 of them for supporting the Confederacy in 1861 and 1862. Only five members of the House have been expelled in U.S. history.