Democrats in New York City and the rest of the state look forward with confidence to the special election set to take place on Feb. 13, 2024, believing that the candidate announced on Thursday, former Rep. Tom Suozzi, stands an excellent chance of beating anyone the GOP puts forward in a deep-blue part of the country.
But some observers fault not only the hasty decision to oust Rep. George Santos, but also the manner in which GOP higher-ups forced the disgraced Santos to step down.
Some, including a prominent Democrat former state senator, have expressed concerns to The Epoch Times about the implications of Democrats rushing to take advantage of Santos’s abrupt departure to flip the balance of political power in New York’s Third Congressional District.
Lawmakers have acted without regard for due process, even while showing timidity about the bribery and deceptions of a figure far mightier than Mr. Santos was while in office—Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who continues to serve as a member of the world’s most powerful legislative body, the analysts say.
Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, a prominent Democrat, has emerged as one of the most acerbic critics of Menendez in recent days. He has called attention to the inconsistency of allowing Menendez to serve after expelling Santos and has even hounded the New Jersey senator by posting on his X account a video made with the Cameo app, in which Mr. Santos mockingly calls on Mr. Menendez to face up to his misdeeds.
Santos Exits in Disgrace
On Friday, Dec. 1, the U.S. House of Representatives voted by a 311–114 margin to expel Mr. Santos, in the aftermath of an ethics probe and a far-reaching federal indictment consisting of 23 separate counts. The most serious allegations against him include myriad types of personal and financial fraud, from misrepresentations about his education, work history, and assets, to identity theft, money laundering, and misappropriation of campaign donations.
According to an Oct. 10 statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Mr. Santos filed false reports of his fundraising activities with the Federal Election Commission in the hope of expanding his donor base and ran up charges on contributors’ credit cards without their knowledge. Victims of his identity theft allegedly include even members of his own family.
“Santos is charged with stealing people’s identities and making charges on his own donors’ credit cards without their authorization, lying to the FEC and, by extension, to the public about the financial state of his campaign. Santos falsely inflated the campaign’s reported receipts with non-existent loans and contributions that were either fabricated or stolen,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace.
The severity of the allegations against Mr. Santos, and the possible legal consequences for the former congressman if he is convicted, are not in doubt. Nor is the legality of expelling him from the House of Representatives, David Bateman, a professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University, told The Epoch Times.
“Each chamber has the authority to determine its membership, and the Constitution establishes the ability and threshold for expelling members. This recognizes that the well-being and dignity of Congress should not be limited to criminal matters nor, as that would imply, be tied to the judicial process. That would raise the courts over Congress,” Mr. Bateman said.
“It also recognizes that expulsion ought, in some cases, to be a political matter. Not partisan, but concerned with the integrity of the broader constitutional order.”
Mr. Bateman acknowledged how rarely Congress resorts to its power to expel a member. The need seldom arises, he said, because a member facing extremely serious charges is likely to preempt such retaliatory action and step down of their own accord out of shame or pride.
“The high threshold makes it unlikely to be abused. After all, if you have a partisan supermajority of that size, you probably have a very heterogenous party unwilling to expel people for narrow political or ideological reasons,” Mr. Bateman said.
In the case of Mr. Santos, members of his own party wanted him out, and the “damning” ethics report had the imprimatur of a bipartisan committee. There can be little doubt that other Republicans viewed Mr. Santos as a liability to their party’s national prospects, not to mention their own.
“That the New York GOP wanted him gone reflects the fact that his continued presence makes them most vulnerable,” Mr. Bateman said.
In agreement about the clear legal mandate to expel Mr. Santos is Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University in Ohio.
Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution explicitly grants each house of Congress the power to remove a member with a two-thirds vote, Mr. Smith noted. No restrictions or review process apply here, he said.
“When Congress has exercised that power, it has generally been in the context of illegal behavior, as with James Traficant back in 2002. But there is no requirement for the decision to expel to be connected to legality. Just as with presidential impeachment, it is up to the House to decide what its own standards are as they consider the choice,” Mr. Smith said.
Also in agreement on the legality of the move is Michael Alcazar, a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“The U.S. Constitution grants each member of Congress the ability to set its own rules and the power to discipline members. The vote count to expel Santos surpassed the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution to proceed,” Mr. Alcazar told The Epoch Times.
He harbors no doubts about the motives of those members who voted to rid themselves of Mr. Santos’s company for good.
“I believe what swayed this decision was the Ethics Committee report. The report outlined considerable evidence of malfeasance and illegal conduct. This appears to have exceeded the level of tolerance of a majority of the members of Congress,” Mr. Alcazar said.
Jumping the Gun?
Yet even some who might normally cheer the departure of a GOP politician and the opening of a seat to a possible flip have expressed concerns about the swiftness of the decision to expel Mr. Santos.
One Democrat activist who spoke to The Epoch Times on a no-names basis said it bothered him a little that the House took such a drastic step before any trial and conviction, in contrast, for example, with the removal of Ohio Rep. James Traficant, a Democrat, on July 24, 2002, after his conviction on 10 felony counts including racketeering and fraud.
Mr. Smith is in partial, if not full, agreement on this point.
“Removing Santos was perhaps a little premature compared to past actions, but the magnitude of his lies and behavior made it an easy choice for most members of Congress. Of course, Santos will probably face a string of convictions in federal court, but that remains to be seen,” he said.
John Feehery, a political consultant, also questioned the expulsion on procedural grounds.
“I personally don’t like the precedent. But I understand why some people make the case that Santos was a special case,” Mr. Feehery told The Epoch Times.
“Setting bad precedents usually comes back to haunt you. I am ambivalent,” he said.
Mr. Feehery once worked as an aide to Rep. Dennis Hastert—a former Representative from Illinois’s 14th Congressional District and Speaker of the House, who resigned in November 2007 and was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for bank fraud committed in the course of withdrawing money to compensate victims of his own sexual abuse decades before.
Asked whether he saw parallels between the case of Mr. Santos and the case of Mr. Hastert, or those of politicians who have left office before their term was up, Mr. Feehery said, “Not really.”
“We kicked out Traficant, but he was convicted. And we really didn’t want to do that,” he said.
Quid Pro Quo
Others disagree entirely with the decision to expel Mr. Santos, while most members of the Democrat Party continue to display moral weakness or blindness in the face of the elephant in the room—Mr. Menendez.
The senior senator from the Garden State, who wielded enormous power as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, engaged in a “corrupt relationship” with three New Jersey-based business associates, according to a 33-page indictment prepared by U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in September. In return for political favors benefiting those three associates and the government of Egypt, the indictment details, Menendez and his wife received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, in the form of cash, gold bars, mortgage payments, and a high-paying sinecure that required little or no work.
Not only is Mr. Menendez thought to have embarrassed his Senate colleagues and brought disrepute to one of its most respected committees, but his actions may have jeopardized U.S. national security, given how much sensitive information he funneled to Egypt’s government.
In view of the extent and severity of Mr. Menendez’s misdeeds, GOP figures have made a colossal mistake, says Keith Naughton, a consultant and principal of Silent Majority Strategies, based in Germantown, Maryland.
“Removing Santos was a boneheaded move by Republicans. They should have tied it to the Senate removing Bob Menendez. Santos definitely talked his way into Congress more blatantly than the rest of them, and his story is salacious, but Menendez is charged with accepting bribes from a foreign government with highly credible evidence,” Mr. Naughton told The Epoch Times.
He called Mr. Menendez’s crimes a “far more serious issue” than the charges against Mr. Santos and said that, with the notable exception of Mr. Fetterman, most Democrats have refrained from denouncing Mr. Menendez or demanding his immediate removal.
“Santos is one out of 435, and he is not running again. Menendez is one out of 100, and senators have much more individual power. That fact that Democrat John Fetterman has better political sense than the House Republican caucus is incredible,” Mr. Naughton said.
‘Judge and Jury’
Far from acknowledging the elephant in the room, Democrats have proceeded apace with the tapping of Mr. Suozzi to run in the special election in February.
Some are behaving as if Suozzi’s victory, and the flipping of the district from red to blue, is a fait accompli, former New York State Sen. David Carlucci, a Democrat who works as a political consultant, told The Epoch Times.
This is partly due to Mr. Suozzi’s high profile in local politics as a four-term mayor of the Long Island town of Glen Cove, a county executive of Nassau County from 2002 to 2009, and a U.S. Representative for the Third Congressional District from 2017 to 2023. And voters are justly outraged at Mr. Santos’s behavior.
Even so, the speed with which the party elite have anointed Mr. Suozzi is off-putting to some.
“In the wild world of New York special elections, where there are no primaries, Suozzi’s got the Democratic committee nod, and he’s practically tying his shoes for a victory stroll. With Suozzi being the well-known village mayor, county ex, and congressman, locally, he’s got more name recognition than a pop star,” Mr. Carlucci said.
“Add Santos being about as popular as a cold cup of soup, and voters are ready to show Republicans their displeasure for fielding such a flawed candidate,” he said.
Mr. Carlucci suggested that Democrats in New York are not behaving as they might in a more traditional sort of electoral campaign.
“Now, with the local Democrats giving Suozzi a green light, this election is less ‘special’ and more like a coronation of Suozzi. It’s like they’re just checking if he brought the proper crown,” he said.
Mr. Carlucci, a Democrat, expressed doubts similar to those of Mr. Smith and Mr. Feehery about the rough justice meted out to Mr. Santos before any sort of formal legal process could take place.
“Congress expelling Santos sets a dangerous precedent. Sure, Santos is the guy everyone loves to hate, but Congress shouldn’t play judge and jury,” he said.
For lawmakers to have acted in such a brusque manner blurs the crucial distinction between political and legal responsibilities, and the separation of powers, suggested Mr. Carlucci.
“Santos may have been convicted in the court of public opinion, but not in a court of law. They’re lawmakers, not courtroom drama enthusiasts. Let the courts and voters do their thing. Otherwise, it’s like giving Congress a superhero cape they don’t really need,” he said.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Mr. Suozzi’s campaign for comment.