(Bloomberg) -- George Santos is better known for the lies he’s told rather than anything he’s actually done in Congress. Now the freshman Republican from New York could be running out of road.
Within 24 hours, a new poll showed that many of the people who voted for him now want him out. He’s stood down - at least for now - from congressional committees he hasn’t even had a chance to serve on. By Tuesday evening, he had embarked on an apology tour to a sympathetic conservative outlet by blaming the media while pledging to have “learned his lesson.”
The question becomes whether the man who confounded the political establishment with serial lies that went unchecked is able to brazenly cling to office even as each day brings more bad news.
“I can guarantee you that from now on, anything and everything is always going to be above board,” he told the OAN network. “It’s largely always been above board, I’m just going to go the extra step now to double-check, cross-reference everything.”
Santos faces investigations by authorities in the US and Brazil, where he once lived, as well as complaints to the House Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission.
For now, House Republicans aren’t clamoring to unseat him. Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who needs every vote he can muster in the narrowly divided House, has said Santos could be removed from office if the Ethics Committee determined that he had broken the law — but not until then.
Fellow New York Republican Elise Stefanik, chair of the House GOP caucus, said Santos “voluntarily removed himself from committees as he goes through this process.”
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, once a GOP gadfly and now a member of McCarthy’s inner circle, called the decision a “pretty bold move.”
Santos told his colleagues “there was so much drama over the situation,” she said, adding that he had spoken with McCarthy but made the decision on his own.
In a statement, Santos spokeswoman Naysa Woomer characterized the move as “reserving his seats on his assigned committees until he has been properly cleared of both campaign and personal financial investigations.”
Santos declined to speak to reporters at the Capitol regarding what he told members in the meeting or his conversations with McCarthy. He told reporters he had addressed the controversy on Monday and to “look out for the interview.”
That OAN interview, posted Tuesday afternoon, featured attacks on the media, which he blamed for harassing his family, but few new details about the many questions he has refused to address for weeks.
“I put myself in this predicament,” he said in the interview, and said that if he had it to do over again, he “wouldn’t have lied” about his education.
And, in a direct appeal to voters’ sympathies, Santos referenced his personal rise from poverty to the House.
“I come from a humble beginning, I’ve always said that. I grew up in abject poverty in Jackson Heights in Queens in New York City,” he told OAN. “People like me aren’t supposed to do big things in life, and when we do it disrupts the system. And I know that a lot of people want to create this narrative that I faked my way to Congress, which is absolutely, categorically false.”
Santos insisted he had built “a career through experience and through knowledge and through self-education. And I think it’s amazing that I have to sit here and be spoken down to on a regular basis, yet again, by the media.”
Santos had been placed on the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Roger Williams, the chair of the Small Business Committee, said Santos left the door open to returning to the committees “when there comes a point he is not an issue anymore.”
“He kind of set the rules in there. I mean, we were all listening,” Williams said after the GOP meeting.
Santos has been under fire at home, with Republicans in New York calling for his resignation. Almost eight in 10 voters in his district, which covers northern Nassau County and parts of Queens, want him to resign, according to a Newsday/Sienna College poll conducted Jan. 23-26. Only 7% of his constituents view him favorably.
Two freshmen House Republicans from New York, Nick LaLota and Anthony D’Esposito, reiterated calls for Santos to resign in a statement Tuesday.
“This is a classic case of someone quitting right before they were going to get fired,” they said. “While we, and the overwhelming percentage of Long Islanders we represent, are relieved to see that Santos will not be undeservedly sitting on committees, he should still do the right thing and resign.”
Santos has acknowledged inventing significant details about his religion, education and career, including that he graduated from college and worked for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. He has also previously suggested that he was Jewish.
Santos has also dismissed an allegation he pocketed $3,000 from a GoFundMe campaign in 2016 for a homeless veteran’s dying dog. “The reports that I would let a dog die is shocking & insane,” he tweeted.
At the same time, confusion over who is in control of Santos’ campaigns funds has continued to grow. Santos’ campaign designated Thomas Datwyler, a Wisconsin-based compliance professional, as his current treasurer, though Datwyler’s lawyer said he had turned down the job. The FEC has asked Datwyler why the filings listed him as treasurer, giving him until March 2 to respond.
--With assistance from Emily Wilkins, Billy House, Gregory Korte and Laura Davison.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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