Feb 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House Republicans have a George Santos hangover after losing his seat

Former Rep. George Santos, wearing a blue jacket, dark blue sweater and glasses, walks in a white brick hallway.

Former Rep. George Santos. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

The loss of George Santos' House seat to Democrats on Tuesday has Republicans who opposed his expulsion from Congress feeling vindicated.

Why it matters: Some Republicans fear the result will accelerate their party's embrace of zero sum politics. "We always take away the wrong things," said one.

  • "We are inherently incapable of seeing the actual [problem]," the lawmaker added, predicting conservatives "will say we shouldn't have done that instead of getting our act together to do what's right."

What they're saying: "It was a big mistake," said Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas). "Santos was a solid vote for the conservative voice and we kicked him out."

  • Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) decried "virtue signaling" by Republicans who supported expulsion, saying "our chickens have come home to roost."
  • "We've got to start playing chess and stop playing checkers," Burchett added.
  • "That was a strong Democratic seat to begin with, and for however George Santos presented himself to win that seat, he was successful," said Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.).

Between the lines: "I think now ... those who made decision that George Santos should be expelled, if they're not having second thoughts, they're maybe reevaluating the entire process," said Alford.

  • "You may be able to remove someone from the House, but the repercussions could be greater than letting that person stay."

The backdrop: Santos was expelled in December after a House Ethics report found he engaged in a "complex web of unlawful activity" including using campaign funds on lavish personal expenses.

  • The report and Santos' two federal indictments were the last straws for House members in both parties.
  • Despite GOP leadership's opposition to expulsion, Republicans split evenly on the vote: 105 voted to expel Santos and 112 voted against it.
  • In an election held Tuesday, Democrat Tom Suozzi easily won back Santos' seat – narrowing House Republicans' slim majority.

What we're hearing: House Speaker Mike Johnson's (R-La.) message to colleagues in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning was that holding the seat was "always going to be tough," according to a lawmaker in the room.

  • Johnson did not reference Santos, but some members quietly expressed a sentiment of "jeez, we shouldn't have done that," the lawmaker said.
  • Johnson's office pointed to his opposition to expelling Santos in December on the grounds that he hadn't received full due process.

The other side: "George Santos was a con man and a crook and shouldn't have been a member of Congress," Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told reporters.

  • "Perhaps George Santos being honest would have kept one more seat in Congress," he added.
  • Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) told Axios he has "absolutely no regrets" about voting to expel Santos: "That we have a slimmer majority, well that's just the price you pay."
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