APTOPIX George Santos Criminal Charges

U.S. Rep. George Santos leaves the federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y. on Wednesday. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The federal criminal charges against Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., divided House Republicans on Wednesday, with party leaders signaling no additional immediate action would be taken against him and many of his GOP colleagues from New York re-upping their animated calls for his resignation.

Speaking at a news conference, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., noted that Santos previously stepped down from his committee assignments amid the months-long outcry over fabrications in his biography. Scalise did not respond directly to a reporter’s question about whether the freshman lawmaker should now resign.

“First of all, regarding George Santos, he was already removed from all of his committees,” Scalise inaccurately told reporters as Santos took that step, not Republican leadership. “In America, there’s a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process. … [T]hat court process is going to play itself out.”

His comments echoed those Tuesday from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who said that indicted members of Congress should maintain their right to vote in the chamber while they await trial. “If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees. They have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial,” he said.

But many of Santos’s colleagues did not appear to be that patient.

“Resign,” Rep. Michael Lawler, R-N.Y., said in a text message to The Washington Post.


“I once again call on this serial fraudster to resign from office,” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., said in a statement.

“These charges bring us one step closer to never having to talk about this lying loser ever again,” Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y., said.

Several of Santos’s most vocal GOP critics represent highly competitive districts, where voter disgust with Santos could splash over onto them as well. For the House leadership, meanwhile, the temporary loss of even one GOP vote has the potential to cause headaches in the narrowly divided chamber. Republicans hold 222 seats, while Democrats hold 213.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks back to his office after opening the House floor on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Santos, 34, surrendered to federal authorities in the morning and is expected to appear in a federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., later Wednesday. Officials said he has been charged with fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and false statements.

Democrats on Wednesday re-upped their calls for Santos to step down, and some suggested it was ironic that House Republicans are pushing a bill this week that would purportedly crack down on unemployment fraud.

According to the charges brought by prosecutors, Santos fraudulently applied to receive unemployment benefits when he was employed and running for Congress in 2020.


“You can’t make this up: House Republicans are beginning floor consideration today of a bill that would defund efforts to crack down on unemployment fraud,” Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said in a tweet. “On the same day that one of their members was hit with a criminal indictment for unemployment fraud.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the House Republican conference chairwoman, also suggested that GOP leadership would take no further action against Santos in the short term – and sought to defend the unemployment bill.

“He voluntarily had stepped down from his committees,” she said, appearing at the same news conference as Scalise. “We are committed to making sure that we root out any fraud when it comes to unemployment, pandemic assistance, and we’re working to have support from our conference. And it’s a good policy. And we urge the Democrats to vote in support.”

Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, speak after the House Republicans’ caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

President Biden has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would decrease resources available to combat fraud.

In late January, Santos announced that he was voluntarily stepping down from the Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the Small Business Committee.

“With the ongoing attention surrounding both my personal and campaign financial investigations, I have submitted a request to Speaker McCarthy that I will be temporarily recused from my committee assignments until I am cleared,” Santos said in a statement at the time.


Santos later told reporters he was confident he would be cleared “because I have nothing to hide.”

Other members of Congress have continued to serve while facing criminal charges. In recent years, those include now-former representatives Duncan D. Hunter, Calif., indicted in 2018 for spending campaign funds on personal expenses, including trips to Hawaii and Italy; Chris Collins, N.Y., charged in 2018 with securities fraud; and Jeff Fortenberry, Neb., indicted in 2021 for concealing information about foreign campaign contributions. Hunter and Collins later pleaded guilty; Fortenberry was found guilty in March 2022 of concealing facts and lying to investigators probing illegal campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., continues to serve years after a 2015 indictment on bribery charges. A trial ended with a hung jury in 2017.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said Wednesday that he hoped Santos would have already stepped down and would not continue to put House leaders through this “distraction.”

“It’s a punchline for a lot of commentary regarding the Republican Party that we don’t need, and I just … feel like he should have done the right thing,” Womack said.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, reiterated his view that Santos should step down. The two had a tense exchange on the House floor ahead of the State of the Union, with Romney rebuking Santos for seeking out a high-profile spot in the chamber.


“I think he’s already demonstrated that he has a very loose relationship with the truth,” Romney said of Santos on Wednesday. “I think it’s a question of why he remains in Congress and should resign immediately. Should have resigned a long time ago. But I think we’re seeing that the wheels of justice grind slow but they grind fine, and he will have his day in court.”

Republicans outside of Washington also weighed in on Wednesday.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, reiterated his call for Santos to “resign immediately.”

In a statement, Blakeman also said Santos “is a stain on Congress and he’s doing a disservice to the residents of the Third Congressional District.”

The criminal charges also provided new fodder for Concerned Citizens of NY-03, a group that has been seeking Santos’s ouster.

“The world has known for months that Santos is a liar, an impostor, a criminal,” said Jody Kass Finkel, a Santos constituent and spokeswoman for the group. “The only thing we didn’t know was which of his many crimes would be prosecuted first. It’s beyond time for Speaker Kevin McCarthy to withdraw his support for Santos and show him the door.”

House Democrats on Wednesday also seized on the Santos charges – and lack of action by Republican leaders – to highlight the difficulties of the Republican conference.

“The party of George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene cannot be trusted to govern,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said in a tweet, referencing the controversial Republican firebrand from Georgia. “Not now. Not ever.”

The Washington Post’s Mariana Alfaro, Camila DeChalus, and Shayna Jacobs contributed to this report.

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