ESTRICH: Good riddance to George Santos

It took three votes — and a scathing, 56-page report from the House Ethics Committee — to convince the requisite two-thirds majority necessary to expel a pathological liar from the House of Representatives. The question is not whether he deserved to be expelled, but what took so long.

He has been charged with multiple felonies, including fraud and money laundering. The Ethics committee concluded that he made up his resume, defrauded donors and spent campaign funds on personal expenses — including his Botox injections.

It took all of that, and then some, for the House to act. The first two votes Santos managed to survive because most Republicans didn’t want to expel someone who hadn’t (yet) been convicted of a crime. The report of the Ethics committee — and close calls in an election year — changed the equation. Vulnerable Republicans didn’t want to be out there defending the right of a pathological liar to be a member of the House. You would think that would be a given, but until now, it wasn’t.

Due process?

Santos is complaining that he was deprived of it, but it’s hard to see why. Serving in Congress is not a right. It is not a license to lie. It is a privilege, and one Santos plainly had no right to.

How did he ever think otherwise? There is, to be sure, the danger that a very much divided and dysfunctional House could abuse the power to expel, wielding it as a political weapon to be used against those with whom you disagree politically. This is how the censure power is being used, whether against Adam Schiff (who treated it as a badge of glory and a hook for fundraising) or Rashida Tlaib. But this is different.

George Santos very clearly abused his power as a member of Congress. He was given the opportunity to defend himself to his peers, the members of the House Ethics Committee, and they found against him. If lying, cheating and stealing from your donors is not enough for expulsion, what is?

Santos plainly should have resigned. “He could do the country and his constituents a service if he just resigned,” Rep. Robert Garcia, one of the leaders of the anti-Santos effort told reporters before the final expulsion vote. “A person that fabricates their entire life story and gets elected on a lie should not be in Congress.”

Even so, Republicans didn’t call the vote, with Speaker Mike Johnson telling his colleagues to “vote their conscience.” The speaker voted no. Was that really his conscience talking, or was he just counting votes? What does that say about your conscience? Johnson’s excuse was that he worried about setting a precedent with the expulsion of a member who has not been convicted of a crime. But what kind of a standard is that?

At a time when public respect for elected officials is in the toilet, isn’t it time for those who are elected or appointed to high office to be held to a higher standard than whether they have been convicted of a crime? What is the purpose of even having a House Ethics Committee if not to police its own members? If you need Santos’ vote to carry the day, isn’t that proof that you shouldn’t have it?

It takes a super-majority of two-thirds to expel a member. That served to protect George Santos through the first two votes, until the House Ethics Committee finally acted — albeit slowly. But it was important for the House to act, even if slowly, at least to send the message that ethics matters more than party, because it should.