(NewsNation) — Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y., is under a federal investigation after admitting he fabricated parts of his past during the campaign that includes stories about his heritage, education and professional history.
Many feel that Santos has put Republicans in a pickle: How do party leaders deal with his fabrications and misrepresentations without jeopardizing their slim majority or setting a precedent?
The answer so far is to say nothing and let Santos speak for himself — and perhaps to let voters decide Santos’s fate in 2024.
However, Michael Wilkerson, a Republican strategist, said this is “unacceptable.”
“By doubling down on the problem by instead of just coming out and saying it’s a lie, calling in mistakes — look, a mistake is you get off on the wrong exit on I-95, you drink too much eggnog, it is not fabricating your entire life story. So it’s absolutely a problem.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Emmer, Minn., and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, N.Y., have not commented on the revelations surrounding Santos’s background and falsehoods.
The reality is that a slim incoming majority of 222 GOP seats to 212 Democratic seats and one vacancy leaves Republicans little political incentive to come down hard on Santos, as they might need his vote to pass their priorities.
And McCarthy, who is facing opposition from a handful of hard-line House Republicans threatening to sink his Speaker bid, may need Santos’s vote to secure the Speakership on Jan. 3. Santos expressed support for McCarthy for Speaker in a tweet last week that has since been deleted.
Kristal Knight, a Democratic strategist, said Santos’s actions “appear to be intentionally misleading.”
“When you misrepresent things that are on your resume, that voters likely, maybe they use your credentials to elect you or to consider their vote for you, that is intentional, it feels intentional. It feels like it’s misleading.
In an interview with the New York Post earlier this week, Santos apologized for his fabrications but downplayed them as “sins” over embellishing his resume, adding that “we do stupid things in life.”
“It doesn’t appear that his apology will suffice for sitting members of Congress, which is why we’re already seeing people saying that once he is sworn in, that they will recommend the House Ethics expel him,” Knight said. “So, he really won’t have a good tenure in his first term of Congress. And he likely will face a tough reelection if he is successful in fulfilling his entire term.”
Santos is scheduled to be sworn in next Tuesday, when the U.S. House reconvenes. If he assumes office, he could face investigations by the House Committee on Ethics and the Justice Department.
Wilkerson noted that the Americans’ trust in Congress is at its lower level, and incidents like this only further voters from trusting elected officials.
“Somewhere around 15 to 20% of Americans trust their Congress, ” he said. “We have got to get back to a level of integrity, honesty and trust of our elected officials. And no, this does not do anything to help it. If there have been, for example, financial crimes or other things committed then, of course, they need to be investigated.”
Meanwhile, as leaders remain silent, some Republicans are starting to speak out against Santos. Three Republican members-elect from New York have scolded Santos this week.
Nick LaLota on Tuesday called for “a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement” into Santos. Anthony D’Esposito said that Santos’s “fabrications regarding the Holocaust and his family’s history are particularly harmful.” Mike Lawler said Wednesday that Santos “should cooperate fully” with federal, state and local investigations “if he is to regain the trust of his constituents and colleagues.”
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, a former chairman of the NRCC from 2009 to 2013, told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday that he is “not supportive of him being in our conference at all from what I know.” But Sessions said that the revelations about Santos do not necessarily “mean he’s expelled.”
The Hill contributed to this report.