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N.Y. Rep. George Santos expelled from Congress

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The House of Representatives has voted to expel New York Republican George Santos. It's a historic vote. He's only the sixth member of Congress to be expelled by the House, the third since the Civil War. More than 100 Republicans joined the overwhelming majority of Democrats to reach the two-thirds majority needed to remove him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The yeas are 311. The nays are 114. Two-thirds voting in the affirmative, the resolution is adopted. The clerk will notify the governor of the state of New York of the action of the House.

FADEL: NPR's congressional reporter Eric McDaniel joins me now from the Capitol. Hi, Eric.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So only - this is one of only six people to ever be expelled. Tell us about the vote.

MCDANIEL: Well, you wouldn't know it by looking at the numbers, but it was kind of a nail-biter.

FADEL: Oh, OK.

MCDANIEL: Just a reminder, this vote happened because Santos is facing 23 federal criminal charges. I'll get into that in a second. Speaker Mike Johnson, the top Republican, a constitutional lawyer, had said that although he was concerned about the precedent here, namely that Santos hasn't been convicted of any crime, he was not going to push his members either way on the vote. Some Republicans, including Louisiana's Clay Higgins, had spoken out in support of Santos, decrying how the Republican-led House Ethics Committee conducted its investigation. Then this morning, a lot of last-minute developments on both sides of this - Republican leadership, including Johnson, all came out against expelling Santos. And then a dramatic email from Ohio Republican Max Miller to his colleagues - he said that the Santos campaign had overcharged his and his mother's credit cards, costing them tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. In the end, though, the pressure was just enough to oust Santos from his job.

FADEL: So you mentioned those 23 federal charges. If you could just remind us what those are, how we got here.

MCDANIEL: Yeah, they're pretty dramatic. So they include wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, conspiracy against the United States, aggravated identity theft and credit card fraud. One facet of this that's pretty easy to explain - according to the House Ethics Committee report released just before the Thanksgiving recess that was sort of a tipping point here, Santos said that he loaned his campaign money, but apparently didn't actually. The report did say he paid himself back for those fake loans, essentially stealing money from his donors. He also, of course, has done a lot of colorful personal spending, according to these indictments, and admitted to lying about much of his background.

FADEL: Well, dramatic is right about those charges. This all has real political implications, though, too, right?

MCDANIEL: Sure. Yeah. Republicans had to decide here whether Santos' conduct was grave enough that it trumped their political needs. House Republicans, of course, have a whisper-thin majority. We've talked about it with the spending fight and everything else. And in spite of the distraction Santos proposed, he's a reliable conservative vote. He's from a district Biden won and that could very well send a Democrat back after a special election. That was doubtless on the minds of both Republicans and Democrats as they cast their ballots today.

FADEL: So what happens, then, to Santos and the seat in the House?

MCDANIEL: Well, it's not over for Santos, of course. He's out of Congress, but he still has to go through the legal process with these federal criminal charges. He could spend time in jail. And like I mentioned, there's going to be a special election for Santos' seat. The New York state party can pick the candidates for that, so TBD time, TBD candidates. But, you know, this is a district President Biden won. Like I said, it could end up sending a Democrat to Congress. In the meantime, Republicans have an even tighter margin as they work to get spending bills passed - there are deadlines for that in January and in early February - and all of the other business that they have to get done before the government runs out of money.

FADEL: NPR's Eric McDaniel. Thank you, Eric.

MCDANIEL: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.