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George Santos

Leadership flies blind on Santos vote

There’s a lot that’s unusual and unprecedented about the Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) saga.

Allegations are that the New York Republican used campaign funds to pay for Botox, credit card bills and vacations to the Hamptons and Las Vegas. Santos reportedly steered tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign to a consulting firm he secretly controlled in order to repay a loan that was never made. The veritable tsunami of lies Santos told about his education, religion, personal history and professional experience. All this defies easy explanation. Or any explanation.

But there’s another interesting dynamic at play today in the Capitol. House Republicans are going to the floor at 10 a.m. without knowing if they’re going to be successful in expelling the 35-year-old Santos from Congress.

If Republicans are looking to their leadership for guidance, they aren’t getting a ton of help. Speaker Mike Johnson hasn’t said how he’s voting. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik and Majority Whip Tom Emmer haven’t either.

Late Thursday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told us he’d oppose Santos’ expulsion.

“He’s going to have his day in court, which he deserves,” Scalise said while walking onto the House floor. But that criminal trial isn’t expected to begin until September — at the earliest.

House Democrats believe every one of their 213 members will vote to expel Santos. That means roughly 80 of the 222 Republicans would need to vote for expulsion to end Santos’ brief congressional career. Remember, expulsion requires two-thirds of those present and voting.

The conventional wisdom among top leadership aides is that Santos will be expelled.

But the House Republican leadership hasn’t whipped the expulsion vote at all. They’re flying blind here.

And there’s some doubt inside the GOP leadership about the outcome. Several aides and lawmakers told us that the vote could be tight. There were seven absences Thursday and a similar amount is expected today.

There are lawmakers concerned about the precedent it would set to boot a member who hasn’t been convicted of a crime nor formally sanctioned by the Ethics Committee. Count Reps. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in that camp.

“Due process is important,” said Smith, a 22-term member of the House. “If he’s convicted, it’s a no-brainer.”

There are also dozens of members who have said they plan to vote against the expulsion.

Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Mo.) said he expects most of his colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus will oppose the resolution.

“You’re going to see a lot of guys like me vote ‘no,’” Burlison told us.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), an HFC member, sent around a letter earlier this week warning his colleagues of “serious concerns” over how the investigation and potential expulsion of Santos has been handled.

Meanwhile, Santos said in a small pen-and-pad Thursday that he plans to leave D.C. if expelled. Santos — who is under federal criminal indictment in New York — has no plans to return to Capitol Hill, blaming bitter relationships with his colleagues.

“It’s a very sour relationship with a lot of people in the body,” Santos said. “So I don’t think I will come back to this format of Congress in the near future.”

Some news: Johnson held his first big D.C. fundraiser Thursday night, hosted by fundraiser and lobbyist Jeff Miller and Altria’s Todd Walker. It raised $4 million, as promised.

Organizers announced at the fundraiser that they’ll hold another event on Feb. 8. By then, donors’ contribution levels will have been refreshed. And Republicans have set the goal of raising $12 million next time.

On Johnson: CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck: “Speaker Johnson wrote foreword for book filled with conspiracy theories and homophobic insults”

— Jake Sherman and Mica Soellner

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