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McCarthy says Santos will remain in office as N.Y. Republicans call for his ouster

U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) waits for the start of a session in the House chamber on Jan. 6.
Alex Brandon
U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) waits for the start of a session in the House chamber on Jan. 6.

Updated January 12, 2023 at 12:04 PM ET

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Thursday that Rep. George Santos is a member in good standing of the Republican conference, despite a growing scandal linked to widespread deceptions.

"The voters have elected George Santos," McCarthy said in a news conference. "He is seated."

After calls from GOP leaders in New York that Santos step down, McCarthy acknowledged Santos "has a long way to go to build trust."

"I don't see any way that he's going to have top secret [information]," McCarthy said referring to Santos's committee assignments.

Acknowledging widespread concern about Santos's deceptions before the November election, McCarthy said an ethics panel will review his behavior.

"He will go before [the House Ethics committee]. If anything is found to be wrong, he will be held accountable exactly as anybody else in this body would be," McCarthy said.

Previously, McCarthy suggested voters should be the ones to hold Santos accountable in 2024, if Santos seeks re-election.

Local Republican leaders from Long Island, meanwhile, condemned Santos, R-N.Y., Wednesday as a "pathological liar" and demanded he give up the House seat he won in November.

Santos, a political newcomer, lied about much of his personal and professional biography, making false claims about his Jewish heritage and inventing a story about his family escaping the Holocaust ahead of World War II.

"He's basically confessed. He needs help," Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who serves as Nassau County's top administrator, said at an emotional news conference. "He's not a normal person. He needs to stop deluding himself that he can continue in Congress."

New York Rep. Anthony D'Esposito, R-N.Y., appeared at the event via video link from Washington, D.C., and also called on Santos to step down.

"George Santos does not have the ability to serve here in the House of Representatives and should resign," D'Esposito said.

Four Republican House members from New York called on Santos to step down, including Rep. Nick Langworthy, who also serves as chair of the state GOP organization.

Local GOP officials said they will refuse to work with Santos's office and will instead route any federal concerns through D'Esposito's office.

Santos has acknowledged "embellishing" his resume but has said repeatedly his deceptions were not criminal in nature.

Asked by reporters in Washington, D.C., whether he would step down, Santos replied, "I will not."

U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) waits for the start of a session in the House chamber on Jan. 6.
Alex Brandon / AP
Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., waits for the start of a session in the House chamber on Jan. 6.

Santos has said he intends to serve out a full two-year term in Congress.

The head of the Nassau County Republican committee, Joseph Cairo Jr., acknowledged the GOP's internal vetting process failed to catch Santos's deceptions.

"Shame on me for believing people," Cairo said during the news conference, in response to questions from reporters.

"We trusted him. I take responsibility for that. So we will obviously adapt that [vetting] system."

Cairo said he is convinced Santos "continues to lie" to the public about his behavior.

Cutting ties with Santos would be costly for Republicans.

Santos served as a key ally helping McCarthy win a bitter and protracted leadership fight. Santos's vote could also be crucial for the GOP in the narrowly divided House going forward.

If he were to leave office, it would trigger a special election in a battleground district.

Santos currently faces probes by Nassau County's district attorney and by the U.S. attorney' office. Democratic lawmakers have also urged the House Ethics Committee to begin a separate investigation.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.