GOP Rep. George Santos, facing possible expulsion, defends himself on House floor

He argued removing him without his being convicted sets a bad precedent.

November 30, 2023, 5:19 PM

On the brink of possibly being expelled from Congress, embattled Rep. George Santos defended himself during an hourlong debate on the House floor Thursday.

Santos, who is facing his third expulsion vote this year on Friday, debated several lawmakers, including fellow Republicans arguing for his removal, calling him a "total fraud and serial liar."

Santos and his supporters -- who included Republican Reps. Troy Nehls, Clay Higgins and Matt Gaetz -- argued that the New York congressman's expulsion would set a dangerous precedent and is not reflective of the wishes of the voters who elected him.

Rep. George Santos speaks on the House floor on Nov. 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Pool via ABC News

"Every member expelled in history of this institution has been convicted of crimes or Confederate turncoats guilty of treason. Neither of those apply to me, but here we are," Santos said. "On what basis does this body feel that precedent must be changed for me? An American citizen, duly elected -- elected to represent the 3rd district of New York."

Santos' expected expulsion vote comes after a damning report from the House Ethics Committee detailing what investigators said was his use of campaign funds for his own personal enrichment. Santos on Thursday again criticized the panel's work, calling the report "slanderous."

In a rare floor speech, Republican Rep. Michael Guest, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, detailed the report's "shocking" findings and knocked down Santos' claims that it was biased and hastily produced. Guest filed a resolution to expel Santos earlier this month.

Rep. Michael Guest speaks on the House floor on Nov. 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Pool via ABC news

New York GOP Reps. Anthony D'Esposito, Nick LaLota, Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro -- who have been leading the charge to oust their colleague -- urged the chamber to remove him from Congress.

"George Santos is not the person he offered to voters. He didn't work where he said he did. He didn't go to school where he said he did. He's far from rich. He isn't Jewish. And his mother was not in the south tower during 9/11," LaLota said. "So, the argument that New Yorkers voted George Santos in, and that we should wait until November of 2024 for voters to decide his fate, is inherently flawed, since voters weren't given a chance … in the first chance to determine who they were actually voting for."

Nehls said Santos shouldn't be expelled because in the United States "everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law."

"Kicking out Mr. Santos is setting a very dangerous precedent. Never before has Congress expelled a member based on indictments," he said. "… So, why today would we remove a member from this House based on an indictment? It's never been done before. It shouldn't happen today."

Higgins, dismayed by the precedent he said the expulsion will set, called Friday's vote "egregious."

"Step back from this egregious act that you have threatened," he said. "Reflect upon the American people that we serve, the oath that we have sworn, and allow the people of New York to cast their vote as they see fit."

D'Esposito advocated for Santos' expulsion, saying it's time to rethink the standard to which elected officials are held.

"We have an opportunity in this great institution to start a new precedent, one that means we hold members of the House of Representatives to a higher standard, ladies and gentlemen," D'Esposito said "… And I hope that tomorrow, in this great chamber, we set that precedent, Mr. Speaker. We set a precedent that we, as members of America's oldest institution, are held to a higher standard."

Santos' effort to expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Earlier Thursday, Santos introduced a privileged resolution calling for Democrat Rep. Jamaal Bowman to be expelled for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for pulling a fire alarm before the House voted on a spending measure to avert a government shutdown in September.

Rep. George Santos talks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 30, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In a Thursday morning news conference, Santos -- who has been scandal-ridden since arriving in Washington earlier this year and is facing federal charges -- aired his grievances against Bowman.

"I think that that's consistency. Let's hold our own accountable but let's make sure we do it with the precedent of the House," Santos said.

The House Ethics Committee, which released that scathing report on Santos, declined to investigate Bowman for pulling the fire alarm. After his court appearance, Bowman told ABC News, "I regret Capitol Police resources needed to be used to respond to that. I'm glad no one was hurt."

In a statement Thursday morning, Bowman slammed Santos.

"No one in Congress, or anywhere in America, takes soon-to-be former Congressman George Santos seriously," Bowman wrote. "This is just another meaningless stunt in his long history of cons, antics, and outright fraud."

'This is bullying'

Santos addressed reporters outside the Capitol and called the renewed effort to oust him representative of the "chaos" in Congress. He continued to insist he will not resign.

"If I leave, they win," Santos said. "If I leave, the bullies take place. This is bullying."

"It's theater for the cameras," the New York Republican added. "It's theater for the microphones. It's theater for the American people at the expense of the American people because no real work is getting done."

Representative George Santos speaks during a press conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 30, 2023.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday that members can "vote their conscience" but also expressed "real reservations" about the process given Santos has not yet been convicted.

In a news conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies called Santos a "serial fraudster" and "a national embarrassment" but called the vote to oust him an "issue of conscience" for House Democrats as well and said Democratic leaders are not advising members how to vote.

Santos highlighted that fact at his own press conference Thursday, telling reporters: "If I am to get expelled tomorrow, I will be number six in the history, the first Republican and the only one without a conviction or ... without having committed treason."

When asked if he expected the measure to pass, Santos said he "didn't know." Santos said he would not be asking members to come to his defense ahead of the vote.

Facing possible removal, Santos said "whatever comes my way, I have the desire to stay very much involved in public policy" and said he "won't rest until I see Donald Trump back in the White House."

ABC News' Jay O'Brien and Arthur Jones contributed to this report.