House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) is doubling down on his backing of Republican Rep. George Santos (New York), even as other Republican officials call for Santos’s resignation and legal and political problems pile up for the freshman representative and seemingly inveterate liar.
McCarthy, who has stood by Santos for weeks, even as Santos has admitted to fabricating huge swaths of his resume and life story, reiterated his support for Santos in a press conference on Tuesday. The speaker, for whom Santos’s vote was necessary in order to win the speakership, threw up his hands, saying that he is not in the position to compel Santos to resign or punish Santos as the leader of the House — even though actions McCarthy has taken in recent days have contradicted that claim.
“No. You know why I’m standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday, disregarding the facts that Santos’s numerous lies were only uncovered after he had already been elected, and that polls find that voters now want him out. “I do not have the power simply because if I disagree with somebody or what they have said that I remove them from elected office.”
“If for some way when we go through [the] Ethics [Committee] that he has broken the law, then we will remove him, but it’s not my role,” McCarthy continued. “I believe in the rule of law. A person’s innocent until proven guilty.”
McCarthy’s comments go against his own actions. For instance, McCarthy is blocking several Democrats, Representatives Adam Schiff (California), Eric Swalwell (California) and Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) from committees, citing flimsy claims with no legal backing; Schiff and Swalwell have not been “proven guilty” in any legal context of the accusations that McCarthy and Republicans have hurled against them. Omar, meanwhile, has said that she only has a target on her back because she’s Muslim.
It’s ironic that McCarthy would claim to hold the will of the voters sacred when it comes to Santos, since McCarthy was one of 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election and ignore the will of tens of millions of voters to install Donald Trump.
The speaker’s comments also go against historical precedents.
Speakers of the House exercise extensive power as both the leader of the chamber and as the head of the party with the majority of House seats. It is rare for a member of the House to be removed through the formal process of a two-thirds vote; it is far less rare for a member to be pressured to resign and for the member to step down, as Republicans have done several times in recent decades.
If McCarthy were concerned about Santos’s rampant lies and questionable campaign finance practices, there would be other options to rein the Republican in, like setting up a censure vote or refusing to seat him on committees. But McCarthy refuses to take any disciplinary action and has seated him on two committees, broadcasting to future and current politicians that Santos’s behavior is acceptable within the Republican Party.
In reality, House Republicans decided long ago that they would not punish Santos, as people familiar with discussions have said; with their slim majority of only four seats in the House, Republicans are likely only considering their power, rather than the ethics of their members.
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