The House Ethics Committee has unanimously voted to open an investigation into George Santos. This is notable, as this committee is majority controlled by Republicans. So what’s going on here? Santos has become a bigger problem than the Republicans know what to do with, and they’re worried about 2024.
House Republicans are clearly afraid that if they do nothing about Santos, they’ll be seen as complicit in his villainy, and it’ll cost them a number of seats in 2024. So they feel they have no choice. And since this committee vote was unanimous, Kevin McCarthy and the House Republican leadership surely signed off on it.
Republicans are surely hoping they can do an ethics probe into Santos, acknowledge what everyone out there already knows about him, condemn and censure him, but not have to expel him and lose the seat. But that’ll come down to what the level of public attention and pressure is by the time the probe reaches its conclusion.
Republicans have majority control over this probe, and have the chair position. But Democrats are a large minority on the ethics committee, and they have a ranking member with some power. So if the Republicans try to minimize Santos’ scandals or limit the scope of the probe, Democrats will be able to publicly push back and call them out in real time.
Remember, it’s not a matter of what this ethics probe does or doesn’t uncover. The media has already done that legwork. This is a matter of how much public pressure and ongoing media interest the Democrats can continue to stir up about Santos during the ethics probe.
There is also the reality that with Santos being under criminal federal and state investigation (and under investigation in Brazil), he could easily end up indicted before year’s end. If Santos ends up in a cell, Republicans will realistically have to expel him. So this probe also lays that groundwork for them, if things go in that direction.
But House Republicans were clearly hoping the Santos mess would have blown over by now, and that they wouldn’t even have to do an ethics probe. It’s a credit to the House Democrats for keeping Santos in the news, making him a face of the Republican House, and putting the Republicans in a position where they had no choice but to launch this ethics probe.
Now it’s up to the Democrats on the House ethics committee to use this probe to make sure that Santos remains in the headlines, and that Santos is portrayed as merely a symptom of the rotten Republican House.
And it’s your job to help the Democrats on the ethics committee get their messaging across. The messaging you’ll want to push: 1) Santos is a career criminal and must be expelled. 2) Santos is merely a symptom of a corrupt Republican House, and the Republicans must be voted out in 2024.
Remember, if you’re just yelling defeatist tripe like “Republicans will protect Santos no matter what” or “Santos will get away with it all no matter what,” you’re just pissing all over the Democratic messaging so you can feel outrage. Please keep your defeatist leanings to yourself, because defeatist rhetoric does get in the way of the actual messaging.
Also, 90% of what you’re going to hear about this ethics probe from the media and pundit class will be wrong. The probe does not mean Republicans have suddenly “grown a conscience” or “grown a spine.” Nor can the Republicans use this probe to just magically sweep Santos’ scandals under the rug.
The media will also likely frame this ethics probe solely in terms of whether Santos is expelled: a win for Republicans if they don’t have to expel him, and a win for Democrats only if he’s expelled. But that’s overly simplistic and misses most of the point.
In reality there are two ways the Democrats can win this ethics probe: 1) Santos is expelled and Democrats win the resulting special election to replace him. 2) Democrats are able to use this probe to make House Republicans look so bad for refusing to expel Santos, it costs the Republicans seats in 2024.
It’s already a decent sized win for the House Democrats that they were able to use the media to generate enough sustained public pressure such that House Republicans felt they had no choice but to open this bipartisan ethics probe into Santos. That’s a credit to the Democrats for being so on-point with messaging (as per usual these days). It’s also a credit to those of you who have spent the past few months helping to spread and amplify the Democrats’ messaging about Santos.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report