House Republican leadership is facing growing pressure to punish Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) after GOP leaders in New York called on the congressman to step down for fabricating large parts of his resume and personal details.
Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo and other officials — including freshman Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) — said Santos should resign during a press conference on Wednesday, arguing that his campaign was one of “deceit, lies, and fabrication.”
“He has no place in the Nassau County Republican Committee, nor should he serve in public service nor as an elected official. He’s not welcome here at Republican headquarters for meetings or at any of our events,” Cairo said. “As I said, he’s disgraced the House of Representatives and we do not consider him one of our congresspeople.”
D’Esposito, the first sitting House member to call for Santos’s resignation, said his “many hurtful lies and mistruths surrounding his history have irreparably broken the trust of the residents he is sworn to serve.” And Rep. Nick Langworthy (N.Y.), chairman of the New York GOP, backed Santos’s resignation and said the congressman “cannot be an effective representative,” arguing that “it would be in the best interest of taxpayers to have new leadership.”
But Santos is refusing to step down, writing in a statement that he was “elected to serve the people of #NY03 not the party & politicians” — a stance that is putting top House Republicans in a pickle, forcing them to figure out how to handle the freshman congressman while holding on to their narrow majority in the chamber.
In his most extensive comments on the Santos controversy yet, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Wednesday that the New York Republican “will continue to serve,” noting that voters elected him to be their representative. The newly minted leader also said Santos is “innocent until proven guilty” — a notion that was echoed by other GOP lawmakers.
“I believe in due process, so let’s let the process work itself through,” Rep. Richard Hudson (N.C.), the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters Wednesday.
Some members of the conference, however, are recognizing the worsening situation.
“If I were sitting in his situation, I would be worried about going to jail,” a Republican lawmaker told The Hill.
Santos drew ire from Republicans and Democrats alike after reporting from The New York Times found discrepancies in his biography — including where he had claimed to have graduated from college, where he worked and his religious upbringing. The congressman, who was among several Republicans to flip Democratic-held seats in New York in November, later admitted that he was guilty of “embellishing my resume.”
The revelations prompted the top prosecutor in Nassau County, who is a Republican, to launch an investigation into Santos. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York is also spearheading a separate probe into Santos’s finances.
And on Tuesday, two House Democrats from New York filed a formal complaint with the Ethics Committee that accused the congressman of failing to file timely, accurate and complete financial disclosure reports. The lawmakers hand-delivered the document to Santos’s office in the Capitol.
The panel has not yet said if it will open an investigation into the matter.
While McCarthy on Wednesday backed Santos’s decision to remain in Congress, he also said he doesn’t think the New York Republican should be seated on any top House committee. He has not, however, ruled out assigning him to other panels.
McCarthy’s support for Santos highlights the math problem House Republicans are facing in the 118th Congress: with such a slim Republican majority in the chamber, the conference cannot afford to lose a key GOP vote. Even before he was sworn in as a member of Congress, Santos helped McCarthy secure the Speaker’s gavel, voting for the Republican leader on all 15 ballots.
Some Republicans, however, think leadership should prioritize the GOP’s image over its numbers dilemma.
“If they don’t take action and make a statement, I think they’re being short-sighted and myopic, that they need to protect the brand long-term,” Republican strategist John Thomas said of top lawmakers in the House GOP conference ahead of McCarthy’s comments. He also said Santos should not be seated on committees.
“These are leadership tests and an opportunity to stand tall and protect the brand,” Thomas added.
Tom Doherty, who served as an aide to former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), also said Santos shouldn’t be given any committee assignments. He did, however, acknowledge the difficult position McCarthy is in.
“At the same point, you got to stand up to somebody and say, ‘Look, this is a man of very low character, he lied, and I really don’t want him around me,’ ” Doherty added.
The swirling controversy has offered a bit of split screen between Republicans in Washington, D.C. — who are treading more carefully with Santos — and Republicans and others in New York, who have shown they’ve had enough.
Regardless of whether Santos completes his full two-year term in the House, some Republicans agree that the freshman congressman is unlikely to bounce back from the controversy politically.
“Look, you can make a mistake, and you could, you know, fudge something on your resume. I mean, you have a United States senator who was in Vietnam who wasn’t, you know, and that was a big deal, right?” Doherty said.
“But this was a whole litany of stuff. I mean, he made up an entire life, basically. You don’t get away with that. You certainly don’t, and you certainly don’t get away with that in a competitive district. He’s not getting away with this. No, not at all. This isn’t going away anytime soon.”