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Democrats won’t bail out Santos this time around, sending grim sign about fate in House

House Democrats have had it with Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).

While dozens of Democratic lawmakers had voted against the effort to expel the embattled New York Republican earlier in the month, those same lawmakers are now lining up to support Santos’s ouster when a similar resolution hits the floor later this week.

“It’s pretty clear: He needs to go,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) said.

“I’ll probably vote for an expulsion,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said.

“I’ll be a ‘yes’ vote to expel,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).

Schneider, Cleaver and Johnson were all among the 31 Democrats who had opposed Santos’s ejection just four weeks ago. They join a long and growing number of Democratic lawmakers from that list who are ready to flip their votes when the opportunity presents itself this week. Some are predicting the Democratic vote to expel Santos will be unanimous.

“I would assume everybody at this point,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who had also voted to keep Santos in office earlier this month.

The Democrats are citing a recent Ethics Committee investigation, which reached damning conclusions about Santos’s conduct, as the reason for their change of heart.

“I read that report as setting a new precedent because of this unprecedented situation,” Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.), another of those 31 Democrats, said this week.

More significantly, the shifting winds send an ominous sign about Santos’s ultimate fate. While he survived two previous efforts to boot him from office, Republicans increasingly view Santos as a drag on the whole party, and his most vocal GOP critics are predicting they have the votes to eject him this time.

“I think there’ll be 120, 150 Republican votes, or more,” said Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), one of the New York Republicans leading the charge behind Santos’s ouster.

If LaLota’s prediction is anywhere near accurate, it would almost certainly be enough to pass the expulsion resolution, which requires support from two-thirds of voting members to be successful. In a chamber of 435 lawmakers, that puts the threshold at 290, and the Democratic caucus, boasting 213 members, is poised to supply the bulk of it.

“There’s not a lot of joy in this at all,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday. “But we feel that this is the appropriate remedy to deal with the serial fraudster that is George Santos.”

Across the aisle, meanwhile, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said that while he has “real reservations” with the effort to oust Santos, he also won’t twist Republicans’ arms to have them oppose it. Instead, he and his leadership team will give lawmakers the space “to vote their conscience.”

“We’ve not whipped the vote, and we wouldn’t. I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith,” Johnson told reporters in the Capitol.

Through all the scandals, a number of Republicans have continued to back Santos, arguing that — short of a criminal conviction — only voters should have the right to remove him from office.

“We make decisions based upon law, not feelings. And George Santos hasn’t been convicted in a court of law,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said. “If he is, that’s a very different dynamic. But until that occurs we should not be doing this.”

Santos, for his part, is predicting that the effort to oust him will pick up enough votes to be successful.

“Probably,” Santos told reporters Tuesday evening when asked if he thinks he will be expelled. “If you go based on math, I believe so.”

“So, do I believe it?” he asked. “If I believe my colleagues, and a lot of them are saying that they have the votes.”

Support for expulsion is not without political risks — for both parties.

For Republicans, the most obvious consequence is also immediate: They lose a seat in a chamber where their majority is already a fragile four votes. And with Santos likely headed out the door, some lawmakers are already thinking about what comes next for New York’s 3rd Congressional District — which could flip blue, handing Democrats a mid-session pickup opportunity that would further reduce Johnson’s razor-thin majority.

Santos’s Long Island district broke for President Biden by roughly 8 percentage points in 2020, and Cook Political Report says the area is “lean Democrat.” While the district turning blue is not a surefire outcome — especially amid concerns over inflation and the influx of migrants in New York — Republicans are recognizing the possibility that they may lose a key seat in their slim majority.

“Good government is good politics, and if we do the right thing here and fulfill New Yorkers’ expectations to expel a total fraud, I think there’s good politics to be had after that, but yes, it’s risk,” LaLota said when asked if he is concerned that the seat could go Democrat. “We’re going to remove a Republican, narrow our majority, but I think that’s good government … the voters will benefit us for it.”

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), whose district neighbors that of Santos, brushed off any electoral concerns.

“Nassau and Suffolk’s a bright shade of red,” he told reporters. “It will stay red.”

For Democrats, the risks are less obvious but no less real.

Only two House lawmakers have been expelled since the Civil War, and both had first been convicted of federal crimes. With that in mind, some Democrats are voicing concerns that ousting Santos — who has been indicted but not convicted — could set a dangerous precedent leading to a spike in expulsions for lesser political offenses.

“The reaction to Santos is visceral,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said. “But if one stops and thinks — other than the reaction to him — you wonder if this can be a slippery slope down the road where this becomes a punishment for one’s politics as opposed to a punishment for the kind of unethical and potentially illegal things that this man’s done.

“I’ll probably vote yes,” he continued. “But it does worry me a lot. It really does.”

Cleaver agreed, saying he also is likely to support Santos’s expulsion, “but I do so very cautiously, because I am really afraid of opening that door.”

“Everybody feels that he should not be here. But, man, this may be the beginning of something that we regret later,” Cleaver said. “No question about it, this is a slippery slope.”

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