Kevin McCarthy Finds Himself in the Peculiar Position of Having to (Kind of) Support George Santos

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Less than a week into his speakership, Kevin McCarthy has himself a really big George Santos problem. Santos, newly sworn-in member of the New York congressional delegation, has admitted to lying about a host of issues when he was running for office, from his work history and eduction to his sexuality and religion. Instead of getting the first openly gay, non-incumbent Republican elected to the House of Representatives, McCarthy and his GOP colleagues are left to deal with a fraud who pulled a major rope-a-dope on his constituents — and that’s made him a favorite punching bag of the corporate media.

McCarthy was able to sidestep the issue for a bit while he concentrated on getting the votes needed for him to become speaker. Now that he has the gavel firmly in hand, however, the issue can no longer be brushed under the carpet. The first question for McCarthy: Will he pressure Santos to resign? Apparently not:

“Look, the voters decide,” McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters on Capitol Hill when asked whether he would welcome Santos’ resignation if it was offered, according to NBC News.

“That’s what his decision is to make,” McCarthy said, adding, “The voters elected him to serve. If there is a concern, he has to go through the Ethics [Committee], let him move through that.”

The next question: Will McCarthy seat Santos on House committees? Apparently, he will, but Santos won’t be getting any plum assignments from the new speaker. When asked about the possibility of Santos being “seated on any of the A committees – i.e. Judiciary, Budget, Ways & Means, Armed Services, Oversight etc,” McCarthy replied: “No.”

The ultimate question, of course, is whether Santos intends to resign, particularly with the pressure being applied by his fellow New York Republicans, with one, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, saying,

“It has become clear that Congressman George Santos’ many hurtful lies and mistruths surrounding his history have irreparably broken the trust of residents he is sworn to serve. For his betrayal of the public’s trust, I call on Congressman George Santos to resign.”

When questioned on Wednesday if he intends to resign, Santos told reporters, “Absolutely not.”

To emphasize this point, Santos took to Twitter to defiantly rail at his critics, tweeting:

“I was elected to serve the people of #NY03 not the party & politicians, I remain committed to doing that and regret to hear that local officials refuse to work with my office to deliver results to keep our community safe and lower the cost of living. I will NOT resign!”

And, just for fun, he got in a dig at CNN commentator Adam Kinzinger:

Santos resigning or being removed is a real problem for Kevin McCarthy, as losing Santos’ seat could mean one less Republican in an already thin GOP majority. A Democrat has held that seat (NY03) since 2012, and Biden won there 54 to 44 percent in 2020; so, a special election, considering Santos’ current unpopularity, could easily turn into a Democrat pickup. The GOP would then be looking at holding 221 seats to the Democrats’ 214.

The numbers game is not particularly kind to McCarthy right now, but he did manage to overcome it to ultimately become speaker. He’s playing the George Santos issue the only way he can: calling Santos out for his misdeeds, while not explicitly demanding his removal from office. This is the kind of gamesmanship that got McCarthy to where he is, and luckily for him, history on his side when it comes to House members being removed from office. Officially expelling Santos would require a two-thirds majority of members present, and it’s unlikely enough Republicans would go along to make that happen. The House has avoided taking such actions, in the absence of a felony conviction, because doing so would void the will of the voters.

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