Republican leaders in New York's suburban Nassau County made an impressive show of political leadership when several of them called for the resignation of admitted "embellisher" Rep. George Santos. But one powerful Republican leader, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, was not among them. Instead, McCarthy gave us a profile in political cowardice not only by not calling out Santos but by defending him with whataboutisms about others who have embellished their résumés in the past.
These calls have been moving displays of integrity from a party that often prioritizes fealty to Donald Trump and MAGA values over accountability and truth.
The contrasting reactions to the astonishing lies of an elected member of Congress tell the story of two different GOPs: One that calls out wrongdoing and looks out for the voters it serves, and another that barrels ahead in the pursuit of political power, no matter the cost or consequences.
On Wednesday Nassau County GOP Chairman Joe Cairo, flanked by local and state officials together with a Republican member of Congress joining remotely, stated: “George Santos’ campaign last year was a campaign of deceit, lies and fabrication.”
Jennifer DeSena, North Hempstead's supervisor, stated: “The longer he remains in office, the longer the residents of the 3rd Congressional District will suffer. Mr. Santos, haven’t you done enough harm?” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, who represents the neighboring 4th Congressional District, declared: “George Santos does not have the ability to serve here in the House of Representatives and should resign.” Others cited the various federal and local criminal investigations into Santos’ campaign finances as a reason he must go.
One of the most powerful comments came from Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive, who is Jewish, in response to Santos' fabricated story that his family was Jewish and had escaped the Holocaust. “For him to make up this story, that his parents were Holocaust survivors is beyond the pale. It is simply tragic and outrageous, and disgusting,” Blakeman said.
These calls have been moving displays of integrity from a party that often prioritizes fealty to Donald Trump and MAGA values over accountability and truth. Santos so far has refused to resign, and has even suggested he’s thinking about his next run for office. And why would Santos resign when he knows someone like McCarthy has his back?
As McCarthy stated on Wednesday in defense of his fellow Republican, “a lot of people in the Senate and others” had fabricated claims about their résumés. Perhaps that’s true, but I can't think of anyone who has come close to Santos’ level in terms of lies, including, as Cairo revealed, bragging about being the star of his college’s volleyball team — at a college Santos never attended.
“What are the charges against him? Is there a charge against him?” McCarthy demanded, saying, “in America today, you’re innocent till proven guilty.”
McCarthy’s desperation to keep Santos in the House is not for some noble policy goals he hopes to obtain; it’s solely about the self-preservation of power for one person.
McCarthy’s desperation to keep Santos in the House is not for some noble policy goals he hopes to obtain; it’s solely about the self-preservation of power for one person: Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy has refused to condemn Santos publicly since the firestorm began on Dec. 19, when The New York Times published its bombshell article documenting Santos’ laundry litany of lies about everything from his work experience to his education, and more. McCarthy remained silent when we later learned that Santos had falsely claimed his grandparents had fled the horrors of the Holocaust, and when federal and Nassau County authorities opened criminal investigations into Santos over suspicious federal congressional financial disclosures.
The newly sworn-in speaker did not even criticize Santos when CNBC reported that Santos’ political team had impersonated McCarthy’s own chief of staff when calling donors to seek campaign contributions for Santos during his 2020 and 2022 runs for Congress.
McCarthy was silent in the past because he needed Santos' vote when Congress was set to meet on Jan 3 to elect a speaker. Despite eventually winning that battle, McCarthy still desperately needs every GOP vote going forward, since the recently enacted House rules package allows for only one House member in the 435-member chamber to trigger in essence a no confidence vote for a speaker, which would end McCarthy’s leadership.
The truth is that if Santos does resign and there’s a special election, a Democrat would likely win the seat. While Santos won in 2022 in a newly designed congressional district that became more competitive for Republicans, the district still has a solid Democratic advantage in terms of voter registration.
In the event of a special election, we can expect Democrats to come out big to reclaim that seat that was long held by a Democrat. No one knows those facts better than the Republican leaders in Nassau County. But that didn’t matter. As New York state Sen. Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick stated when she called for Santos to resign, “He does not represent our values and our commitment, to be honest.”
Apparently, though, Santos’ “values” line up perfectly with McCarthy’s in that they both believe that the pursuit of political power at any cost is perfectly acceptable.
Republican leaders in Washington, from McCarthy on down, need to take a lesson from the local GOP officials in New York's Nassau County. They have given priority to the interests of the voters in having a representative who is an honest public servant and not a serial liar under criminal investigation — even if that means losing the seat to the Democratic Party. This profile in political courage is tragically not something we’ve seen from GOP national party officials in the time of Trump, as their pursuit of power has eclipsed principle time and time again.