George Santos, the former Republican representative from New York, seemed like he stepped out of an episode of the HBO political-comedy show Veep. His reality-TV antics and ostentatious fabrications about his life, and the criminal allegations swirling around him, made him a surreal character in an already surreal Congress.
Today he became only the sixth member of the House to be expelled, following a House Ethics Committee investigation and his indictment on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy for allegedly stealing donors’ identities and using their credit-card numbers to “ring up tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges,” as the Associated Press reported. Of the five previously expelled representatives, three had taken up arms against the United States in the Civil War, and two had been convicted on federal charges.
Santos has not been convicted of anything yet. The comedic absurdity of his actions—having lied about “his distinguished Wall Street background, Jewish heritage, academic and athletic achievements, animal rescue work, real estate holdings and more,” as the AP put it—do not render him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he has been accused. That is for a jury to decide. Expelling Santos post-conviction would have been fully justified; pushing him out beforehand is not.
Had I lived in Santos’s district, I would not have voted for him. But once the electorate renders its decision, only an extraordinary justification should overturn its will. In the five previous expulsions, there was no doubt about what the members had done. In this case, Santos maintains his innocence. Finding him persuasive is not necessary to see that Congress deciding for itself whether voters have made a mistake could lead to more members being expelled for things that they are only alleged to have done, or that fall far short of criminal convictions or armed insurrection. The fact that Santos lied to his voters about his life does not meet this high bar—it is not as though dishonesty is an atypical quality for a politician, even if Santos carried it to an atypical extreme.
Is it embarrassing that Santos was elected in the first place? Yes. But that’s democracy. Sometimes voters make mistakes. The role of members of Congress is to represent their constituents, not to overturn the will of the voters just because they believe those voters have acted unwisely.