Interviews & Profiles

Mike Lawler responds to George Santos’ expulsion

Lawler represents a district bordering Santos’ and tried unsuccessfully to get him kicked out of Congress last month. Now, he’s looking ahead to a post-Santos future.

Rep. Mike Lawler departs from a meeting with House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building on Oct. 19, 2023.

Rep. Mike Lawler departs from a meeting with House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building on Oct. 19, 2023. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rep. Mike Lawler joined 310 other members of Congress to expel (now former) Rep. George Santos from the House Friday morning. The vote comes after a previous expulsion attempt led in part by Lawler, along with fellow New York Republicans, fizzled last month when the resolution failed to get the two-thirds support needed to pass. But after a damning House Ethics Committee, take-two of the expulsion vote was a success. Lawler spoke with City & State about his thoughts around the extraordinary step taken by the House, and about what comes next for New York. 

You previously brought an expulsion resolution that ultimately failed last month. What are your thoughts now that Santos has officially been expelled?

This was about country and the institution above all other considerations. And I think, by a large number, over two-thirds of the House, voted to expel him because he was unfit to serve. His conduct was not only unbecoming and embarrassing, it was criminal. And I think everybody recognizes based on the guilty plea of his treasurer, based on the guilty plea of his former staffer, as well as the Ethics (Committee) report, just how outrageous his conduct was.

Do you have any sense of reservation about expelling him when he has technically not been convicted of a crime, and the sort of precedent that might set?

The rules of the House are clear, and the Constitution is clear. It is the House that governs the members and their conduct, and ultimately, the requirement is two thirds to expel a member. He was afforded the opportunity to cooperate and comply with the Ethics Committee – he chose not to. He chose not to produce evidence or information that would contradict the facts and the evidence as was laid out in the report. You also had the guilty plea of his treasurer and a campaign staffer that clearly lay out the underlying charges that have been brought against him. He will have his day in court, and he'll be able to put forth a defense in those criminal proceedings. But the House is what governs the membership. So I don't have reservations or concerns because he was afforded due process as it relates to the expulsion. 

What are you hoping to see happen next? Are you planning to weigh in at all in the upcoming special election, or is there any particular candidate you’d like to see run?

I have great confidence in (Nassau GOP) Chairman (Joe) Cairo and the Nassau County Republican Party, that they will be able to choose a candidate that will win the special election next year. All of us will support the party's nominee and do everything we can to help keep that seat Republican. Democrats ran on George Santos as an issue this past November and lost big in Nassau County. So if they think that is going to be their ticket to success, the reality is voters are disgusted by the policies that have been enacted by the Biden administration by Gov. (Kathy) Hochul and by (New York City) Mayor (Eric) Adams. From the migrant crisis to public safety to spending and taxes, the issues are on our side. So I feel confident that whoever the party chooses as our nominee will be successful.

Do you have any thoughts on or messages for the two members of the New York Republican delegation – Reps. Elise Stefanik and Claudia Tenney – who voted against expulsion?

No. Look, every member has the right to vote their conscience and what they think is right. You had two Democrats who voted against expulsion and two Democrats voted present (outside of New York). So obviously there was bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition to this. Ultimately, every member makes their own decision.

Looking ahead to the special election and the future in general, how confident are you that there won’t be a repeat of a candidate like Santos within the GOP, and that whatever allowed him to gain support among party leaders won’t happen again?

Thankfully, George Santos is one of a kind. But I am confident that the Nassau County Republican Committee will choose the best person to run and win and hold that seat going forward, who will represent the people of the 3rd Congressional District of New York. There was a lot of failures in terms of exposing George Santos, from the press to the Democrats, to the Republicans. And Chairman Cairo has said that, so I am confident they will be able to do the job effectively and make sure that we have a strong candidate.

A recent report from Politico also said you were privately supporting Nikki Haley for president, can you confirm whether or not that report is true?

No. I guess that reporter thought he had some big scoop. I was asked by a voter about her candidacy and commented on it, but I have not endorsed anyone, I have no plans to endorse anyone and the voters are the ones who are going to decide who the nominees are.