McCarthy names Michael Guest to lead Ethics panel as George Santos questions loom

Panel had 26 open probes when 117th Congress expired

Mississippi Rep. Michael Guest has been named chairman of the House Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Mississippi Rep. Michael Guest has been named chairman of the House Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 23, 2023 at 11:40am

Republican Rep. Michael Guest of Mississippi will chair the House Ethics Committee in the 118th Congress, Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced Monday.

“As Chair, he will work to maintain standards and restore the integrity of this institution,” the speaker wrote in a tweet. “He will put the mission of the People’s House above all else and will help deliver transparency to the American people.”

The move comes as House Republicans continue organizing committee structures after a lengthy floor process to elect McCarthy as speaker. Guest was the Ethics panel’s ranking member for the final few months of the 117th Congress after the death of Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.

Among the panel’s most pressing matters is what to do about freshman Rep. George Santos. The New York Republican has acknowledged falsehoods in a wide range of his biographical details, include his education, his business career, his religion — and even the circumstances and date of his mother’s death.

So far, McCarthy has resisted calls to try expelling Santos, saying: “I try to stick by the Constitution.”

“The voters elected him to serve,” McCarthy added. “If there is a concern, and he has to go through the Ethics, let him move through that.”

That comment puts the situation on Guest’s plate.

Two New York Democrats, Reps. Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres, have asked the committee to look into Santos’ personal financial disclosures. An ethics advocacy group has also asked the Office of Congressional Ethics, which can accept complaints from the public, to look at possible falsifications in Santos’ campaign finance reports.

There were 26 investigations still ongoing on Jan. 2, the day before the 117th Congress expired, according to an Ethics Committee report released by House Democrats. Guest has not yet announced which, if any, of those will continue.

House Democrats’ report suggests the committee would have the ability to look into Santos’ conduct before he was sworn in earlier this month, noting that the Ethics panel has previously investigated new members for actions taken before they formally became members.

Guest is a former prosecutor who has used his platform on the Homeland Security Committee in previous Congresses to speak out on security issues at the nation’s southern border and castigate the Biden administration over border control.

The Mississippian entered Congress as a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who endorsed his 2020 run. Guest, in turn, has remained loyal to Trump, echoing some of the former president’s false claims about the 2020 presidential election. While the new Ethics chairman did condemn the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot carried out by Trump’s loyalists, he voted against certifying the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania.

“We, as a nation, must commit ourselves to addressing these concerns to ensure that the legitimacy of future elections is secured and that faith is restored to our electoral process,” he said at the time.

He also is loyal to GOP leaders.

According to a CQ Roll Call analysis of 2021 votes in which a majority of one party and a majority of the other party are on opposite sides, Guest voted with his party 98 percent of the time, several points higher than the GOP average. For example, the average House Republican party unity score in 2021 was 93 percent.

One notable exception was his vote in support of the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. He was one of 35 Republicans to break from his party on that vote. His 2022 reelection bid was pushed into a primary runoff in June after he came under attack for that vote, but Guest prevailed.

Democrats named Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania as the new ranking member on Ethics.