You never know who you will run into at the Capitol during a State of the Union address.

“Governor,” I said, greeting New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, a former House member, and her small security contingent as they passed me in the basement of the Capitol last Thursday night.

I turned the corner.

“Mr. Santos,” I said.

Mr. Santos.



George Santos waves to reporters outside federal NY courthouse

Rep. George Santos leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York, on Oct. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

As in, former Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. Only the sixth member ever expelled from the House. He was kicked out in December.

It is not surprising to bump into former lawmakers at the Capitol for the State of the Union speech. Yours truly ran into former Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., earlier in the day.

But for George Santos to come back to the Capitol? On State of the Union night?

Is that allowed?

Well, yes.

The House and Senate grant former members lifetime access to the U.S. Capitol after they leave Congress. It doesn’t matter if they retire. Are defeated in a primary. Lose the general election. Resign. Quit. Or, get expelled.

“You came back, why?” I asked.

“I’m a former member,” noted Santos. “I have floor privileges.”

Privileged existence

Santos is a member of a very exclusive club.

The House bounced three members because they were Confederates in 1861. The House expelled Rep. Ozzie Myers, D-Pa., in 1980 after he accepted bribes. Myers is still alive. The 80-year-old Myers just went back to prison recently after he pleaded guilty to charges of ballot stuffing. The House expelled Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, in 2002, after his conviction on charges of taking bribes, filing false tax returns and racketeering. Traficant died in 2013.


George Santos

Former Rep. George Santos made an appearance for President Biden’s State of the Union Address on March 7, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

And then there is Santos.

Expelled members are still former members.

As American Express used to say, “Membership has its privileges.” And you can bet that George Santos intends to take full advantage of that. And as far as anyone knows at the Capitol, no former member ever tried to return after their colleagues dismissed them.

But none of them were George Santos.

Santos picked one of the biggest nights in the American political experience to cast his shadow on the Capitol door and menace the very colleagues who drummed him out just a few months ago.

For his State of the Union wardrobe, Santos chose a dark sport coat, a high-necked, woven Italian sweater and a cream shirt. He punctuated the ensemble with a sparkly, bedazzled collar.

The serial fabulist proceeded to tell me how it was “always a humbling experience” to return to the Capitol.

At that moment, Santos turned a tight corner leading to a “Members Only” elevator that whisks lawmakers to a corridor just off the Speaker’s Lobby by the House chamber. A smiling Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., buzzed around the corner and nearly collided with Santos as I shot video of Santos on my iPhone.

“Sorry! I didn’t mean to photobomb!” said Pressley as she ducked past Santos. “Hi! How are you?”


Congress watches State of the Union address

President Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Massachusetts Democrat seemed just as shocked as everyone else to spy Santos traipsing around the Capitol again.

Spectator, troll, ulterior motives

Another reporter asked Santos if he intended to run for office again.

“I don’t put anything past my desire to run for office at this point,” said Santos. “But right now, I’m just a spectator and I’m just watching.”

Not quite.

George Santos is rarely a spectator. In my time covering Santos, the modus operandi of the New York Republican was always to make himself the center of attention – and everyone else spectators. I mean, who could be a bigger surprise guest to the State of the Union than George Santos? Kim Jong Un?

Santos appeared to have one agenda during the State of the Union: To troll his former House colleagues. To swipe attention from the president and lawmakers – all clustered into the House chamber amid the biggest confluence of government and media outside of a political convention. The Capitol utterly bulged with reporters Thursday night. Local TV reporters jetted into town. The networks organized round-robins of guests in Statuary Hall. Print reporters chased senators through the Senate subway station. Some Washington reporters who rarely visit the Capitol even surfaced in the House chamber for the State of the Union.

So the U.S. Capitol may have been the perfect place for George Santos last week.

And Santos proved his own thesis wrong, that he was there as a spectator.

Just a few minutes into President Biden’s speech. Santos announced he was running for Congress in a different district than the one he represented before. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., won a special election to seize Santos’ old seat. Santos would now seek a return to Congress representing a district on eastern Long Island. Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., currently holds the seat.


A group of protesters with a giant balloon depicting Congressman George Santos stand for a photograph outside the U.S. Capitol building

A group of protesters stood with a giant balloon depicting Rep. George Santos outside the U.S. Capitol building before his expulsion. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Santos faces a mountain of charges over lying to Congress about his wealth, and allegations he improperly collected unemployment benefits and used campaign contributions for luxury expenses. His trial starts in September.

Could Santos run from jail if convicted? Well, Jim Traficant – the last member expelled – certainly did so in 2010. Traficant lost, but still scored nearly 30,000 votes.

“I think much of what George Santos does is not serious,” complained LaLota. “George Santos was one of the most bizarre people I have ever met. I certainly didn’t hug him or greet him with any sorts of niceness, whatsoever. He’s an embarrassment here in Congress.”

LaLota said the House should “tighten up” the rules to “ensure that former members who were expelled don’t have any floor privileges.”

“The guy’s a moron who shouldn’t be here,” protested Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., about Santos materializing in the House chamber. “I’m guessing the New York delegation hand-wrote a new rule in the House where he’s not allowed to come. Those guys were irate.”

By Friday morning, Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., introduced the GEORGE Act. The acronym stands for “Getting Expelled Officially Revokes Guaranteed Entry.” The measure would bar Santos – and any other expelled member – from returning to the Capitol.


The US Capitol

The U.S. Capitol on Feb. 13, 2024. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Congress can be selective about enforcing its own rules

Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution gives the House and Senate the right to make their own rules. So it’s entirely possible that the House could adopt an internal rule to hermetically seal Santos from ever coming back to the clubhouse. However, no one quite anticipated such a scenario, considering how rare it is to expel someone. But then again, they’re not as audacious as George Santos.

But even if the House approved a rule, it would have to enforce the rule. And Congress is sometimes selective about enforcing its own rules.

During the State of the Union speech, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) removed and arrested Steven Nikoui, a Gold Star father whose son Kareem Nikoui was killed during the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Nikoui interrupted President Biden on multiple occasions, shouting “Abbey Gate” from the viewing gallery above the chamber. Nikoui was a guest of Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla. USCP charged Nikoui with disrupting Congress.

“That seems absolutely absurd to me, for him speaking out. Something that many people were doing. But he was the only one charged,” said Mast.

Mast is correct. Many other Republicans heckled and interrupted the president. Notably Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Greene also wore a red “MAGA” hat during the entire speech. Greene says House security officials even threatened to remove her from the chamber if she wore the hat. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., did not quiet lawmakers who hectored the president nor require Greene to remove her hat.

The House has banned the wearing of hats on the floor since 1837. The rules package approved by all members for this Congress states the following:

“During the session of the House, a Member, Delegate or Resident Commissioner may not wear non-religious headdress or a hat or remain by the Clerk’s desk during the call of the roll or the counting of ballots.”

But if no one enforces it…

Which brings us back to George Santos.


George Santos and Matt Gaetz

Former Rep. George Santos sat next to Rep. Matt Gaetz at the State of the Union address. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

No one expected him to return to Capitol Hill. But after all, he’s George Santos. And even if the House adopted a rule prohibiting his return, lawmakers would have to enforce it. Such rules are not self-executing.

Which is why, membership has its privileges on Capitol Hill.

Even for expelled members.

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