This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox.
It took three tries, but the House on Friday finally summoned sufficient decency to boot from its ranks George Santos, the Ferragamo-footed fabulist who fittingly represented the North Shore of Long Island where a fictional Jay Gatsby held court and built a castle built from little more than swagger. And yet, Santos’ expulsion was hardly as forceful as might have been expected, as the top ranks of Santos’ fellow Republicans offered up their own tepid apologia for supporting his sticking around.
In the end, Santos’ political empire found a foundation built on even less than Gatsby, although his fall from grace was markedly more difficult than the F. Scott Fitzgerald icon. Despite a fictional biography that included stints at Goldman Sachs, leadership of a college volleyball team, and a family tree that included Holocaust victims and a 9/11 survivor, Santos almost survived a third attempt to kick him to the curb in less than a year. Expulsion required support of a two-thirds majority, or 290 votes. The final vote was 311-to-114, meaning fewer than two-dozen Republicans could have preserved Santos’ fortunes through next year’s elections.
As defiant and tone-deaf as ever, Santos petulantly exited Congress with the same contempt shown when he arrived in D.C. at the start of the year as an exposed liar. “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place,” he told the phalanx of reporters trailing him on Capitol Hill.
The fact that Santos’ expulsion was far from guaranteed speaks to the craven and self-preserving nature of the current GOP caucus. Staring down the hardening likelihood of a re-nomination of Donald Trump for the top of the ticket, Republican leaders went into Friday’s vote uncertain of the outcome. Top leaders told rank-and-file members to vote their conscience, while no one had an accurate whip count of the vote. The ambiguity speaks to the GOP’s lack of true disgust with Santos’ alleged abuse of campaign funds to cover the costs of Botox, casinos, and porn.
Santos faces 23 criminal counts stemming from his alleged use of campaign accounts to pay for his personal lifestyle, including $6,000 at shoe maven Ferragamo. In all, tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donors’ cash allegedly went to prop up the image of Santos, who unexpectedly won the New York district last year in a state that had served as a GOP seawall against the expected backlash over the fall of Roe. New York Republicans wanted Santos gone, national Republicans weren’t much fond of the fiction-driven character, and donors were in active mutiny. Still, party leaders understood their razor-thin majority could ill-afford trouble, and all four of the top Republicans voted to let him finish his term on the basis that he had yet to have his day in court.
All of which comes together to paint an unflattering portrait of the modern Republican Party, one whose leadership would rather have a known serial fabricator in their ranks as long as it gives them ever-so-slightly-more of an advantage. Santos survived votes to boot him in May and in November, as a significant contingent of the House insisted on waiting for the Ethics Committee to complete its investigation. The Committee’s report apparently offered sufficient proof that Santos is bad news. And yet, 112 Republicans and two Democrats went on the record on Friday to oppose his ouster. (Even for offices that are sticklers for ethics and campaign finance rules, the nightmare of an errant page or entry can spook doubt that expulsion should come based on mere internal findings or unproven court filings.)
Even so, Santos’ exit is unlikely to be the final word when it comes to this scandal-soaked fabricator. His upcoming criminal trial will haunt GOP leadership and amuse Democratic trolls. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers find themselves without a voting representative member of the House for at least the next two months. Sure, Santos’ remaining staffers may be able to help expedite passports and grant petitions, but keep in mind these were staffers whom Santos picked. For instance, when Santos arrived in a Jaguar at the Capitol on Thursday, his chauffeur was a former drug dealer.
So Santos has been sent packing, and Republicans are expecting to lose the seat. But that’s not to say they weren’t willing to bend their standards to hold onto it for the next year. And that should tell Americans about what the GOP is willing to prioritize right now: power over principle, Ferragamos over fibs, a majority over mendacity. It might work in the short term, but voters next year will remember this, and many, many Republicans just put their name next to a vote that history will not judge kindly.
Make sense of what matters in Washington. Sign up for the D.C. Brief newsletter.
Correction, Dec. 2
The original version of this story misstated the area of Long Island that George Santos represented. It is the North Shore, not the North Fork.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Philip Elliott at email@example.com