Despite admitting to having told several lies during his campaign, Republican congressman-elect George Santos is likely to be seated in the new Congress, experts said Wednesday.
“All the odds are that he’s going to be seated,” said Casey Burgat, director of the legislative affairs program at George Washington University’s graduate school of political management, in an interview.
Eric Gander, an associate professor of public argument at Baruch College, City University of New York, agreed.
“He can’t be denied his seat by the Congress,” Gander said, in an interview. News that Long Island prosecutors are launching an investigation into his campaign won’t stop him from getting his seat if he is determined, Burgat said.
“We’ve had members under indictment serve,” Burgat said.
If Santos remains determined to take his seat, the Supreme Court has ruled that the certified winner of an election can only be prevented from taking office if they don’t meet age, citizenship and state residency requirements.
“Santos checks all those boxes,” Burgat said.
The only way to block Santos would be to seat him and then vote to expel him by a two-thirds vote of the chamber.
That’s an extremely rare occurrence. The House has only expelled five members in its history.
Earlier this month, an investigation by the New York Times found that Santos had told falsehoods throughout his campaign to represent New York’s 3rd congressional district about his employment history, property he owned and his education. The district includes part of the north shore of Long Island.
After first attacking the Times, Santos has changed tactics and in several interviews has admitted to the falsehoods, saying he had embellished his resume and said he is determined to take the oath of office on Jan. 3.
With the facts as we know them now, Santos doesn’t seem to have committed any crime, Gander said.
“Simply lying about something without actually trying to get some material benefit from that lie is not a crime,” Gander said.
Congress tried to make it a crime to lie about receiving a medal of valor from the military. The Supreme Court ruled this can’t be a criminal act unless there is an actual benefit, he said.
There are no signs that House Republicans are turning on Santos, Burgat said. While critical of his behavior, Republicans have stopped short of saying they don’t want him in the party conference once the new Congress meets.
“If they didn’t want him sat, they would have very very different public quotes,” Burgat said.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who has been the House minority leader, is focused on his quest to be the next House Speaker and trying to line up the votes needed from Republican House members. The vote will come after the elected officials are sworn in.
“McCarthy has been extremely silent” on the Santos controversy and could even be counting on Santos’ support, Burgat said.
“Santos’ vote will count just as much as the most conservative member in that conference. And McCarthy needs all of them right now, especially going into a speakership race where he, by all accounts, doesn’t have the necessary number right now,” Burgat added.
Once he is in Congress, Santos is likely to face an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. But this panel, divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, can only make recommendations to the full House that are subject to floor votes.
While Democrats have charged that Santos is unfit to sit in Congress, the calculus from Republicans seems to be “let’s just get through it,” Burgat said.
The Catch-22 for Santos is that by deciding not to step down, he will be subject to intense scrutiny in coming weeks.
“There is a non-insignificant chance that this gets worse for him before it gets better,” Burgat said.
For instance, in his several interviews, Santos has been far from clear about his personal finances.
His financial disclosure reports to Congress show a significant increase in assets between 2020 and 2022, including an annual salary of $750,000 from the Devolder Organization that he started.