Rep. George Santos’ breathtaking dishonesty made him an infamous laughingstock, but we’re well past the point at which his list of lies is the congressman’s only problem. The New York Republican is, after all, facing local, state, federal and international investigations.
By any fair measure, those problems are intensifying. The Washington Post reported this week that Santos “received payments as recently as April 2021 from a financial services company accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a ‘classic Ponzi scheme.’” The New York Times had a related report yesterday, shining a light on a “mysterious, unregistered fund” that “may have run afoul of campaign finance rules” while trying to elect the scandal-plagued congressman.
It’s against this backdrop that Rep. Max Miller of Ohio yesterday called for Santos to resign, becoming the seventh Republican House member to make such a declaration this week. [Update: An eighth GOP member joined the club this morning.] Local GOP officials in Santos’ district have also called for his resignation.
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared on CNN yesterday and also addressed the controversy. “It’s a fraudulent candidacy,” he said in reference to Santos. “This isn’t an embellished candidacy, it’s a fraudulent candidacy. He hoaxed his voters, so of course he should step down.”
Ryan’s Republican successor still doesn’t see it that way. The New York Times reported:
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,” McCarthy told reporters. “He is seated. He is part of the Republican conference.”
As we discussed yesterday, pointing to the voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District doesn’t quite work: They elected Santos because they were lied to. That’s why so many Republicans have called for him to resign: The power should be in voters’ hands, and they’re the ones who were deceived.
But I was also struck by something former Rep. Steve King said yesterday. In a message directed at McCarthy, the Iowa Republican wrote via Twitter, “I see you found the spine to DEFEND the will of the voters in defense of [Santos] from charges of lying. I seem to recall the time you DEFIED the will of the voters and led the lynch mob against me for telling the truth.”
It’s an interesting observation. Exactly four years ago this week, following a lengthy list of racist incidents, GOP leaders agreed to strip then-Rep. King of his committee assignments. McCarthy, the House minority leader at the time, said his conference simply could not “tolerate” King’s racism any longer, and the Iowan was no longer a Republican member in good standing.
The decision made sense; King had just days earlier asked, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” But in the process, McCarthy and other GOP leaders helped establish a precedent: Members don’t have to be convicted of any crimes to be exiled from the party mainstream.
McCarthy didn’t simply say about King, “The voters of his district have elected him.” Rather, McCarthy said King, by way of his rhetoric, had gone too far and the party would no longer tolerate him. In the eyes of the future House speaker, the right-wing Iowan had forfeited his role, and he did not deserve to be a Republican member in good standing.
The question then becomes why McCarthy, four years later, is so inclined to give Santos a break. I continue to think it has little to do with principle and everything to do with the fact that the House Republican majority is tiny, and the new speaker can’t afford to see it shrink a little more.
Postscript: Santos initially said yesterday that he would step down “if 142 people ask for me to resign.” He later clarified that he meant 142,000 people, roughly referring to the number of voters in his district who elected him.