(The Hill) — Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is getting an icy reception from colleagues in the House GOP even as he receives committee assignments and continues to serve his constituents on Long Island.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) calls him a “bad guy;” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) describes him as an “imposter.” A handful of other House Republicans have called on him to resign, making it clear they are less than ecstatic to have him as a colleague.
Through the hostility, Santos is insisting he can still be an effective member of Congress, adding his name to co-sponsor legislation and posting that he visited a Hindu temple in his district. But in an institution built on relationships, the sizable scandals could close many avenues to legislative success.
“It’s their prerogative,” Santos told Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on former Trump administration adviser Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast last week when asked about calls for him to resign.
“I came here to serve the people, not politicians and party leaders, and I’m gonna do just that, and I’ve been doing just that throughout this entire first two weeks — whether it was voting for the Speaker or whether it’s been the last week where we’ve been working on legislation in my office.”
Measures that Santos has co-sponsored include a bill to impose term limits for members of Congress and a resolution to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He said his office is also working on constituent matters like securing White House tour tickets and hoping to find a way that federal authorities can address carjackings in his district.
The Santos controversy has drawn a divide within the House GOP conference, with some Republicans coming out against the freshman and others backing his continued service.
At least seven House Republicans have called on Santos to resign, five of whom are first-term lawmakers representing New York. One name notably missing from that list is Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has stopped short of calling on the congressman to step down despite his growing list of fabrications. House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, the highest-ranking Republican in the New York delegation, has also declined to call on Santos to resign.
Last week, McCarthy said Santos deserved the opportunity to serve because he was elected by constituents of New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
“It’s the voters who made that decision. He has to answer to the voters and the voters to make another decision in two years,” McCarthy said, adding that “he will continue to serve.”
Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, and McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have echoed that sentiment even as they have lambasted Santos.
“Certainly, I don’t approve of how he made his way to Congress. And I haven’t even introduced myself to him, because it’s pretty despicable, the lies that he told,” Comer said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “But, at the end of the day, it’s not up to me or any other member of Congress to determine whether he could be kicked out for lying. Now, if he broke campaign finance laws, then he will be removed from Congress.”
The long list of Santos controversies ranges from him admitting to fabricating portions of his resume, to allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from a fundraiser for a cancerous dog (which Santos appeared to deny), to lingering questions about his campaign finances relating to his company. Local and federal investigators are reportedly looking into Santos’s finances, and he also faces multiple ethics complaints.
“I don’t know how he got through the process, being such an imposter. I don’t know why his opponent didn’t bring this out in the election. Or, quite frankly, why he wasn’t screened as a candidate better than he was,” McCaul said on CNN this week.
The first-year congressman took a step towards legislating on Tuesday when he was recommended to sit on the House Small Business Committee and the House Science Space and Technology Committee, following speculation that he may not receive assignments at all. McCarthy initially said Santos should not serve on any top House committees, then later confirmed that he would receive assignments.
The two lower-level panels have jurisdiction over areas including the Small Business Administration and the National Weather Service. Republicans were reportedly concerned that not seating Santos on committees could set a precedent of punishing members who are facing scrutiny despite not being charged with crimes.
Lawmakers in the past have continued to sit on committees and serve in Congress even as they faced ethics issues and criminal investigation, though some have been stripped of committee assignments after indictments, controversial comments, or as punishment for going against party leadership.
Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), the incoming chairman of the Small Business Committee, took a similar stance as McCarthy after Santos was recommended to serve on his panel, pointing to the New Yorker’s November election.
Santos initially expressed interest in the Financial Services and House Foreign Affairs Committees, pointing to his “14-year background in capital markets” and his “multicultural background as a human being.” But the House GOP Steering Committee, which is made up of roughly 30 House leaders and elected regional representatives, recommended that he sit on the pair of lower-level panels — giving him some seats at the table, albeit not the ones he wanted.
Santos will also likely spend time engaging with the House Ethics Committee after two New York Democrats formally asked the panel to open a probe into the congressman’s failure to file timely, accurate and complete financial disclosure reports.
The Ethics Committee has not commented on the request for an investigation. The panel is known for taking a long time to work through investigations and does not typically slap significant punishments on lawmakers who come under scrutiny.
Though the complaint was filed by Democrats, Republicans have expressed support for the ethics probe running its course.
“George Santos represents over 700,000 people in New York, and whether people like that or not, those people deserve to have members of Congress collaborating with the person who serves them, whether that’s on financial issues or on public safety issues. And so George Santos will have to go through the congressional ethics process,” Gaetz told CNN’s “Smerconish” on Saturday. “I don’t want to prejudge that process, but I think he deserves the chance to at least make his case.”
“I don’t think that George Santos should be subject to shunning because the Americans he serves deserve representation and they have real challenges, and we ought to work together to solve their challenges and meet their needs,” he added.
Last week, McCarthy told reporters that “if there is a concern, and he has to go through the Ethics, let him move through that.”