Jan 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

McCarthy’s George Santos problem

George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene

Santos sits with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) during the House speaker election. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Top Republicans are performing a balancing act between fully embracing Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) and abandoning him to a flurry of investigations and calls to resign.

Why it matters: It’s another headache that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doesn’t need right now as he tries to get his razor-thin GOP majority off the ground following a chaotic speaker battle last week.

  • McCarthy said Wednesday that Santos will get committee assignments, telling reporters: "The voters elected him to serve. … In America today, you're innocent until proven guilty."

Driving the news: The Nassau County GOP on Wednesday called for Santos' "immediate resignation" over reports that he fabricated huge swaths of his resume and background on the campaign trail.

  • It was joined by Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.), Santos' fellow Long Island freshman, who, according to the New York Times, said he will press his congressional colleagues to "join me in rejecting him.”
  • Reps. Nick Langworthy (R-N.Y.), the chair of the New York GOP, and Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) followed suit.
  • "When you have your local party saying something so vocally, that's not a helpful sign," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). "But we're going to leave this up ... to the normal legal and ethics process."

Yes, but: Santos is digging in his heels, tweeting: "I was elected to serve the people of [New York's 3rd District] not the party & politicians. ... I will NOT resign!"

  • Coming out of a meeting on Wednesday, members of the Republican Steering Committee said the GOP conference will let investigations run their course and treat Santos like any other member.

Zoom in: A Republican aide offered a blunt explanation for McCarthy’s defense of Santos: “We have 222 seats.”

  • Republicans have just a five-seat majority and the House has a new rule allowing just one member to trigger a vote on removing the speaker.

Santos represents a district that voted for President Biden by 10 points, making his seat one of the bluest held by a Republican.

  • That makes the prospect of a special election in his district particularly thorny for Republicans.
  • National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said he's "absolutely" confident Republicans could hold Santos' seat if it became vacant.

The other side: Democrats are eagerly trying to keep Santos in the news while tying him to McCarthy.

  • Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) filed a complaint against Santos to the Ethics Committee on Tuesday and made a point of hand-delivering it to his office.
  • "If George Santos wasn't seated, what would the math have been for Speaker McCarthy," said House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) at a press conference on Tuesday, referring to McCarthy's election as speaker.
  • "That's the only reason why [Santos] was seated, to give [him] that ability to vote for Kevin McCarthy. So let's call this exactly what it is."
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