G.O.P. Leaders Stand by Santos as New York Republicans Call on Him to Resign
WASHINGTON — New York Republicans are ready to rid themselves of Representative George Santos, the newly elected congressman from Long Island who has admitted to fabricating parts of his résumé and is under multiple local and federal investigations into his yearslong pattern of political deception.
House Republican leaders, not so much.
Amid mounting calls for his resignation from Republican members of Congress from New York and state party officials, Mr. Santos still has the backing of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other House Republican leaders.
In a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday, Mr. McCarthy made it clear that he had no intention of barring Mr. Santos from congressional committees or otherwise penalizing him for winning election under false pretenses.
“The voters of his district have elected him,” Mr. McCarthy said. “He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference.”
Mr. McCarthy downplayed the likelihood that allowing Mr. Santos to serve might put national security at risk, even though members of Congress routinely receive classified briefings from top military and other government officials.
“I don’t see any way that he’s going to have top secret” information, Mr. McCarthy said Thursday at his first news conference since winning the speaker’s gavel, adding, “He’s got a long way to go to earn trust.”
He added that Mr. Santos would face the House Ethics Committee, which considers allegations of misconduct by members.
“If anything is found to be wrong, he will be held accountable exactly as anybody else in this body would be,” Mr. McCarthy said.
The disconnect between the reaction from Nassau County Republicans and those in Washington reflects the differing political realities for both groups. In Congress, Republicans, who hold a paper-thin majority in the House, do not feel directly culpable for Mr. Santos’s misdeeds and have much more on the line if they lose his seat. Mr. McCarthy can’t spare a single vote in the House — least of all one who was a reliable supporter during the 15 rounds it took for him to secure the speakership.
In the 2020 presidential election, President Biden won Mr. Santos’s district by 8.2 points. If he were to resign from Congress, prompting a special election for the seat, there is no guarantee that Republicans would be able to win it again.
More on the George Santos Controversy
- Behind the Investigation: The Times journalists Michael Gold and Grace Ashford discuss how he was elected to Congress and how they discovered that he was a fraud.
- Going to Washington: Despite being under scrutiny for lies about his background, George Santos brings his saga to Capitol Hill, where he will face significant pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
- Facing Inquiries: Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Santos committed crimes involving his finances or made misleading statements, while authorities in Brazil said they would revive a 2008 fraud case against him.
- Embellished Résumés: While other politicians have also misled the public about their past, few have done so in as wide-ranging a manner as Mr. Santos.
The New York Republicans who have repudiated Mr. Santos, by contrast, fear suffering by association with a man whose scandals threaten to tarnish what was a resurgent year for the party throughout the state. Five of the six representatives who have called on Mr. Santos to step down won seats in competitive districts where they are expected to face fierce challenges from Democrats in 2024.
Other local Republicans have suggested that newly installed leaders in Washington are more concerned with their own short-term survival than the potential long-term consequences of backing Mr. Santos.
“We have to think about our brand as a party,” said Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive. “Are we a party that’s behind people of good character and integrity who are transparent? Or are we a party that, for cynical reasons, we are going to allow this to continue?”
With Mr. McCarthy consumed by his own political future last week as he struggled for five days to secure the votes he needed to become speaker, the confounding issue of what was to be done with Mr. Santos was left up in the air.
But now that the speakership has been settled, Republicans are split on how to punish a member who is under active investigation by federal and local prosecutors into potential criminal activity during his two congressional campaigns, as well as fraud charges from Brazilian law enforcement officials.
Representatives Anthony D’Esposito, Nick LaLota, Nick Langworthy and Brandon Williams, all newly elected from New York, have called for Mr. Santos’s resignation on Wednesday. Of those, only Mr. Langworthy, who serves as the state party chair, is in a safely Republican district. The Nassau County G.O.P. chairman, Joseph G. Cairo Jr., has also called for Mr. Santos to step down.
On Thursday, two more Republican freshmen from New York, Representatives Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro, said that they, too, believed Mr. Santos should resign.
Mr. Lawler said in a statement that his fellow newcomer had “lost the confidence and support of his party, his constituents and his colleagues,” adding that Mr. Santos could not fulfill his duties as a member of Congress.
At the news conference on Wednesday where a host of local Republican elected officials demanded Mr. Santos’s resignation, Mr. Cairo said he had not spoken with Mr. McCarthy.
But, he added, he hoped that House Republican leaders “would support us.”
Instead, they have taken a hands-off stance. Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 4 Republican who endorsed Mr. Santos during his campaign, notably sided with her fellow party leaders rather than her state’s congressional delegation, defending her new colleague.
“It will play itself out,” Ms. Stefanik told CNN. “He’s a duly elected member of Congress. There have been members of Congress on the Democrat side who have faced investigations before.”
Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and majority leader, brushed off questions about Mr. Santos, declaring it a matter that would be settled “internally.”
Mr. Santos may be benefiting from the fact that his district is not further to the right. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill speculated privately that leaders might have made a different political calculation if Mr. Santos represented a district that former President Donald J. Trump had won by double digits in the presidential race.
Mr. D’Esposito on Thursday tried to play down any tension within the fractured conference.
“We are unified,” Mr. D’Esposito said. He and other local officials, he said, had felt that “we need to make our position known based on the fact that we have constituents that we represent there who are personally offended by the lies that George Santos has told or made.” But he said he had faith that Mr. McCarthy would make sure Mr. Santos was properly held “accountable.”
What may unify them is a political gene for self-protection.
“They may be bailing on Santos faster because it’s a better topic for them than why the vetters didn’t vet him,” said Stu Loeser, a former press secretary to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, referring to party operatives’ failure to dig into any of Mr. Santos’s claims that turned out to be brazenly fabricated, choosing instead to blindly back his candidacy.
At the news conference in New York, Mr. Cairo was quick to dub Mr. Santos an outsider, saying he was not representative of Long Island Republicans because he initially came from neighboring Queens. (His district does encompass part of Queens.)
“I think George Santos is an exception to the rule,” Mr. Cairo said, adding that he hoped Nassau County voters would make judgments in future elections based on the issues and not “one individual who, unfortunately, was not truthful and ran on Long Island.”
Mr. Santos, for now, is defying calls to resign and portraying himself as a partisan warrior. In an interview on the podcast “Bannon’s War Room” with Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida on Thursday, Mr. Santos said he was in Washington to “serve the people” and that he planned to continue doing so.
“I was elected by 142,000 people,” Mr. Santos said. He said we would “find out in two years” if those voters didn’t want him.
Mr. Santos also said confidently that he had outperformed the politicians calling for his resignation, saying “I beat them by double their margins in the victory.”
Though he did outperform Mr. Lawler significantly, he fell far short of Mr. Langworthy’s 30-point win. Mr. LaLota won his race with a double-digit margin. Mr. Santos won his race by 7.6 points.
Mr. Santos, who initially appeared out of his depth when he arrived in Washington last week, sitting alone in the House chamber and dodging the media as he got lost in the basement corridors of the Capitol complex, has quickly learned his way around Congress.
By the end of the week, he was sitting on the House floor next to the center of the action, alongside Mr. Gaetz and at another point laughing with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia.
On Thursday, he portrayed himself as a fighter.
“I just pray for all of you,” he said, “when they come for you, that you have the strength I have.”
Michael Gold reported from New York. Catie Edmondson and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.