Congressional Chaos Is Driving Lawmakers to the Exits

That should do it for George Santos, the fabulist lawmaker who has best embodied the embarrassing emptiness at the heart of the GOP majority since it took the House this year. The New York Republican—who is already facing more than a dozen criminal charges, including for wire fraud and money laundering—announced Thursday that he would not seek a second term in Congress, following a damning Ethics Committee report on his alleged misuse of campaign funds, among other apparent misconduct. And he may not even make it to the end of his term: As Politico reports, Republican Ethics Chair Michael Guest is introducing a resolution to expel him from office, a move that upwards of 40 of his GOP colleagues support.

“He’s gone,” as one House Republican told Axios.

Santos may be the most notable House lawmaker to announce his retirement or resignation recently, but he’s not the only one: As NBC News noted Friday, he’s among 26 in the lower chamber to announce plans to step aside, either immediately or at the end of the term—a response, in no small part, to the profound unseriousness of the House that Santos represents. “It’s stupid, you know,” as Republican Ken Buck, who announced his upcoming retirement this month, told Punchbowl News. “Impeach that person, censure that person—it’s all political, so members can go raise money and talk tough back home.”

“It’s insane,” added retiring Democrat Earl Blumenauer. “It adds no value to my life.”

Government dysfunction is nothing new, of course. But this iteration of the House GOP—a motley collection of extremists, grifters, and vessels of naked ambition—has taken it to new heights. They began their majority in January with a 15-round bout over the gavel; spent the year bickering among one another over how best to wield their power against President Joe Biden; and are entering the final stretch of the year still bitter over the ouster of Kevin McCarthy as House speaker. Mike Johnson, his successor, has managed at least to punt the government shutdown fight to the new year. But he hasn’t been able to quell the chaos of his conference, which entered Thanksgiving break with spasms of cynical infighting and puerile name-calling. “It’s the same clown car with a different driver,” as one Republican, Kelly Armstrong, described the conference this week.

It’s no surprise members of congress would want to leave. “Washington, D.C. is broken,” Republican Debbie Lesko of Arizona said last month, in announcing her retirement. “It is hard to get anything done.” And it could get worse: The deeper the chamber’s dysfunction, the more it will attract figures like Santos who thrive on it. “Congress is not the institution that I went to 19 years ago,” as New York Democrat Brian Higgins said in announcing his plans to resign this month. “There was a time where leadership could discern what was serious and what was not. Unfortunately, those days are over.”

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