Sunday, October 29, 2023


Paul Kane of The Washington Post believes that the American system of government is facing a tremendous danger: the possibility that a compulsive liar and (alleged!) serial fraudster might be expelled from Congress. To Kane, a successful vote to expel George Santos would bring America that much closer to ruin:
During the more than 230 years of congressional history, just five members have been expelled by the House: three for disloyalty to the Union during the Civil War and two in the last 45 years after they had been convicted in federal court in felony corruption cases.

Santos has not been charged with treason, nor has he been convicted of a crime — not yet anyway. In addition, an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation is just that: ongoing....

This expulsion vote, which requires a two-thirds majority to oust Santos ... [is] part of a growing effort to bypass anything resembling a legitimate investigative process. Instead, it moves straight to empaneling the entire House to serve as instant prosecutors, judges and juries for misdeeds that would probably be better served with a somber and, yes, slow-moving investigation from the ethics panel.
Here's what Kane doesn't grasp: Santos's unfitness to serve isn't embodied only in the crimes he's charged with in a 13-count federal indictment and the matters that are being investigated by the House ethics panel. Santos also lied shamelessly to the voters who elected him -- and not just about one or two matters, but about virtually every aspect of his biography. His jobs. His schooling. The mother who allegedly died as a result of 9/11. And on and on. Santos is unfit is so many different ways that the legal system and House ethics rules can't encompass all of it.

Kane writes:
“He should absolutely resign,” former congressman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said in an interview Friday.

However, having served eight years on the House Ethics Committee, including two as chair, Dent will say out loud what many lawmakers are afraid to say in public: Santos should not be voted out of office....

Not long ago — even though it sometimes feels like decades ago — misbehaving Republicans and Democrats alike used to feel political heat under the speakerships of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

Former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned in 2011 after a social media sex scandal. Former House member Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) resigned earlier that year when he was caught soliciting extramarital partners online. And former lawmaker Mark Souder (R-Ind.) resigned in 2010 after having an affair with an aide.

Onetime congressman Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) was arrested while driving drunk in the Virginia suburbs, telling police he was on his way to see his family — which turned out to be true, just not his family in Staten Island. His mistress and child lived out there. He resigned once it was all exposed.

“Members used to be able to feel shame,” Dent lamented.

Now, outlandish behavior gets attention, and party leaders have less ability to force lawmakers to resign.
So it's okay to pressure a "misbehaving" member of Congress to resign before a full ethics investigation can be completed, but it's not okay to vote to expel someone under the same circumstances? That makes no sense. It's nostalgia, a wish for a time when members of Congress were all gentlemen and ladies who did the decent thing when their misdeeds were exposed. That system of shaming wrongdoers in order to sidestep slow-moving ethics investigations was far from perfect in the past, but even if it worked some of the time, should we replace it with nothing?

A vote to expel Santos would need to be by a supermajority (a two-thirds vote), so a great deal of GOP buy-in would be required. Expulsion would reflect a broad consensus in the House. Why would that be a bad thing?

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