House Republicans avoided a Democratic resolution to expel Rep. George Santos from Congress, as he faces fraud charges, voting instead to send the matter to the House Ethics Committee.

The House voted 221 to 204 along party lines Wednesday in favor of a Republican motion to send the resolution to committee. Seven Democrats voted present.

Santos, who pleaded not guilty last week to a 13-count federal indictment charging him with wire fraud, money laundering, theft and lying to Congress, also voted to refer the matter.

“I look forward to seeing the process play out, and if the ethics committee finds a reason to remove me, that is the process,” Santos said. “I look forward to continuing to defend myself. Again, innocent until proven guilty.”

After calling the indictment a “witch hunt” last week and vowing not to resign from Congress, the first-term Republican told reporters Wednesday evening he will step down if the ethics committee recommends it.

Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., who introduced the resolution Tuesday, said he wanted to force a House vote, put “Republicans on record” and remove Santos.

The privileged resolution required the House to vote within two days. A vote to expel Santos would have needed a two-thirds majority. Wednesday’s simple majority sent it to committee.

“I am personally in favor of this individual’s expulsion from this House,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., said. “Regrettably, though, I’m in the understanding that we currently do not have the two-thirds support from members in this House to expel that individual.”

“I believe that this individual is a stain on this institution, a stain on the state of New York, a stain on Long Island and a stain on the beloved Nassau County,” D’Esposito added in an impassioned speech from the House floor Wednesday.

Santos is accused of using campaign contributions for personal expenses, falsely collecting more than $24,000 in benefits by claiming to be unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic and lying to Congress on financial disclosure forms, according to the Justice Department.

Santos was released on $500,000 bond and surrendered his passport to federal authorities last week. He is scheduled to return to court on June 30.

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