Yesterday we learned the details of the 13 criminal counts charged against NY Congressman George Santos. He wound up pleading not guilty to all of the charges and was eventually released from custody on $500,000 bail.
Where Santos came up with the bail money remains a mystery, but he doesn’t appear to have fled the country. Or at least not yet.
In a more normal world, you might expect Santos to resign in disgrace, but he made it clear that would not do so. He plans to fight the charges and continue showing up in Congress.
Some analysts had expected Speaker Kevin McCarthy to finally move to eject him from the House after the arrest, but that’s apparently not going to happen either. McCarthy’s only comment on the situation thus far has been to say that Santos is “innocent until proven guilty.”
“Listen, George Santos should have resigned in December. George Santos should have resigned in January. George Santos should have resigned yesterday. And perhaps he’ll resign today. But sooner or later, whether he chooses to or not, both the truth and justice will be delivered to him,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Molinaro, a Republican representing parts of upstate New York.House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was more circumspect, saying “I think in America, you’re innocent till proven guilty.”
While George Santos remains an embarrassment to the entire Republican Party, McCarthy is approaching this in a practical (if awkward) manner for a couple of reasons. First of all, the GOP only holds a four-seat margin to hold on to the majority in the lower chamber. There are a couple of members of the Freedom Caucus that can’t be relied on for every vote and Santos has thus far played ball and voted with the team. That gives him a small amount of leverage, at least until he winds up being convicted, assuming that happens.
The timing is also important. Beyond a certain point, the seat would simply remain vacant until the next general election. But if Santos were ejected right now, there would need to be a special election. And it is far from certain if the GOP could hold the seat, particularly with the memory of Santos so fresh in the minds of the voters. Losing one vote because of an empty seat is bad enough. Handing another vote to the Democrats would be worse.
The optics of all of this are terrible, of course. As the situation stands, George Santos will be hanging around for quite a while, constantly being peppered with questions from the press and showing up in the news. It will likely take months for all of the pre-trial proceedings to play out. That time span could be shortened if Santos agrees to a plea deal at some point, but he clearly knows that if he pleads guilty, McCarthy will have no real choice but to expel him and the party will be over. But if the potential jail term is long enough and he’s offered a deal where he does little or no time behind bars, he may just take it.
If nothing else, Santos will continue to serve as a reminder that the press – particularly the local media – must do a better job chasing down the resumes of candidates and scrutinizing them more closely. George Santos flew under the radar over the course of two election cycles and no serious investigation into his resume and business dealings took place until after he was elected.
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