House Republican George Santos pleaded not guilty today to thirteen federal criminal charges, and was released on half a million dollar bond while awaiting trial. If the DOJ and the judge in the case both think that Santos isn’t realistically a flight risk, I trust their professional judgment in the matter. In fact some prosecutors prefer that a stupid habitual criminal like Santos be out on bail, because he’ll just get caught committing even more crimes (such as trying to tamper with witnesses while his communications are being monitored), making for an easier conviction at trial.
The kicker is that if Santos were being held in jail until trial, he wouldn’t be able to vote in the House anymore, meaning he’d be of no further use to House Republicans at all – and they’d probably just cut their losses and expel him now. But because Santos is pleading not guilty and getting out bail, House Republicans likely won’t be able to come to a consensus on whether to expel him, meaning he’ll likely remain in the House for awhile.
This means George Santos – who’s currently awaiting criminal trial on thirteen felony counts – is going to be showing up to the House every day and caucusing with his fellow House Republicans. At this point the guy is a walking scandal. The media will (correctly) try to make a story out of him every day, for as long as he remains in the House. And the media will (again, correctly) hound House Republican leaders like Kevin McCarthy on a daily basis about why they haven’t expelled Santos yet.
There are already some House Republicans publicly calling for Santos to resign, and surely even more of them are doing so in private. As Santos becomes more of a daily headache for House Republicans, we may reach a point where enough of them want him gone that they force McCarthy into holding an expulsion vote. But that could in turn prompt Santos’ remaining allies (think Marjorie Taylor Greene) to turn against McCarthy.
No matter how this plays out, the George Santos scandal will now serve as a nonstop distraction from the House Republican agenda and messaging, which was getting little attention to begin with. House Republicans are stuck with the Santos mess, and stuck in reverse gear, until they find a way to expel him in a way that doesn’t set off the kind of nasty floor fight that could leave them without a Speaker.
In other words, House Republicans likely would have been better off if George Santos were behind bars already. At least then they’d have a clear path forward. As things stand, all they have is a mess that they can’t agree on how to make go away. At this point Kevin McCarthy is probably rooting for the unlikely scenario in which Santos does flee the country. Much more of this, and McCarthy might want to flee the country himself.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report