House GOP Leaders Won’t Call On George Santos To Resign Following Explosive Indictment
House Republican leaders have a plan to deal with Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who was hit with a 13-count federal indictment Wednesday accusing him of everything from money laundering to cheating the jobless benefits system.
Their message: let the courts deal with him.
“I think in America, you’re innocent ’til proven guilty,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday night after the news had broken that Santos had been indicted but before the formal charges had been unveiled.
Santos had already stepped down earlier this year from two committees he was assigned to after questions were raised about his background and campaign finances.
“I think in America, you’re innocent ’til proven guilty.”
– House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
The move preempted action under a rule among House Republicans that an indicted representative step off of their committees unless cleared of wrongdoing.
“In America, we’ll just follow the same pattern we always have, right? If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees. They have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial,” McCarthy said.
Two of McCarthy’s top lieutenants reinforced that “trust the process” message Wednesday morning.
“In America, there’s a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters at a press conference. Scalise is the second-ranking Republican in the House.
“As I’ve said, from the very beginning, on questions on this subject, this legal process is going to play itself out,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the fourth-ranking member of House Republican leadership. “There are a set of rules and, as the majority leader stated, he voluntarily had stepped down from his committees.”
Republicans hold a slim 222-213 majority in the House, giving them only a four-vote cushion if every representative votes with their party. With such a razor-thin majority, every vote counts.
For example, on the $4.8 trillion debt limit bill, House Republicans pushed it through the House with only Republican votes, 217-215. And this week, Republicans continue internal wrangling over a border security bill they hope to bring to the House floor soon. That, too, could be a knife-edge vote.
But some rank-and-file Republicans think the Santos show has gone on too long and is beginning to distract from the party’s messaging. Indeed, House leaders plan to bring up a bill this week to make it easier to prosecute unemployment benefits fraud. But one of the counts against Santos is that he illegally obtained jobless benefits in New York, even as he is a sponsor on the bill set to come to a vote.
Rep. Marcus Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said Tuesday that the news of the indictments came at a bad time. The White House and Republican leaders are trying to negotiate a budget deal, and the expiration of Title 42 raises concerns about a border migration crisis.
“And here we are yet again talking about somebody who just shouldn’t be a member of Congress,” Molinaro told reporters. “The day we no longer have to discuss George Santos as a member of Congress would be a good day for America.”
Other Republican members chimed in Wednesday in favor of resignation. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) tweeted, “The people of New York’s 3rd district deserve a voice in Congress. George Santos should be immediately expelled from Congress and a special election initiated at the soonest possible date.”
“The day we no longer have to discuss George Santos as a member of Congress would be a good day for America.””
– Rep. Marcus Molinaro (R-N.Y.)
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) told a CNN reporter it would “absolutely” be better if Santos resigned. “We don’t need these distractions. That’s the unfortunate thing,” he said.
Of course, Democrats would also love to see Santos gone. One, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), sponsored a bill to expel Santos that has not seen any action. Expulsion would require a two-thirds majority, and only five members of the House have ever been expelled.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement saying Santos showed Republicans “never cared about the best interests of Long Island voters, who’ve been deprived of real representation due to Republican inaction.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former speaker, summed up the feelings of many Democrats. On Tuesday, she told reporters, “I thought he should resign a long time ago. I didn’t think he should ever be here.”