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The problem with Kevin McCarthy’s new line on George Santos

For the first time, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tried to offer a tepid defense of George Santos. It didn't go especially well.


It might be tempting to think conditions couldn’t get much worse for Rep. George Santos. After all, as this week got underway, the New York Republican and prolific liar wasn’t just an embarrassment, he also found himself facing local, state, federal and international investigations.

CNBC also reported on Monday that a member of Santos’ political team raised money for his 2022 campaign by impersonating House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff, raising the prospect of new fraud allegations.

Yesterday, however, the controversy became even more cringeworthy. The New York Times reported on the résumé Santos gave Republican officials on Long Island, and it was, predictably, filled with lies. The Washington Post published its own report, noting that the new congressman “received payments as recently as April 2021 from a financial services company accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a ‘classic Ponzi scheme.’”

It was against this backdrop that local GOP officials in Santos’ district yesterday called for his resignation. Four Republican members of Congress have also now called for the scandal-plagued congressman to step down.

For his part, Santos made clear yesterday that he’d heard the calls for him to quit, but he insisted he’d remain in office. Then again, he says a lot of things, many of which aren’t true, so I suppose it’s tough to tell.

But against this avalanche of intra-party pressure, the beleaguered congressman also learned yesterday that there’s one Republican in a position of influence who isn’t eager to see him go: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. NBC News reported:

“I try to stick by the Constitution. The voters elected him to serve,” McCarthy said. “If there is a concern, he has to go through the Ethics [Committee]; let him move through that. But right now, the voters have a voice in the decision. It’s not where people pick and choose based upon what somebody’s press has. So he will continue to serve.”

The report added that McCarthy was asked whether he trusts Santos. “Look, he is going to have to build the trust here,” the speaker replied, “and he’s going to have the opportunity to try to do that.”

The Californian added that “a lot of people” in Congress have included fabrications on their résumé.

There are a few problems with this, starting with the fact that when it comes to Santos’ broadening scandal, résumé fabrications are just one piece of an ugly puzzle.

What’s more, McCarthy’s line about the importance of voters’ voice has some superficial value, but it misses one of the key points of the controversy: Voters elected Santos because they were conned and 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 let’s also not miss the forest for the trees: McCarthy isn’t backing Santos because the New Yorker is a good guy who's earned the opportunity to serve; McCarthy is backing Santos because the House Republican majority is tiny, and the new speaker can’t afford to see it shrink a little more.

If McCarthy had a 30-seat cushion in the chamber, is there any doubt that the speaker would show Santos the door and save the GOP additional embarrassment?