WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. George Santos of New York announced Tuesday he is temporarily stepping down from his two congressional committees, a move that comes amid a host of ethics issues and a day after he met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Santos has faced numerous calls for his resignation and is facing multiple investigations by prosecutors over his personal and campaign finances and lies about his resume and family background.
Santos was assigned to two fairly low-profile panels, the House Committee on Small Business and to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Still, his arrival has left GOP leadership frequently answering questions about the congressman rather than about their priorities for the coming months.
In a prepared statement, Santos said he wanted to focus on serving his constituents “without distraction."
“I want to personally thank Speaker McCarthy for meeting with me to discuss the matter and allowing me to take time to properly clear my name before returning to my committees," Santos said. “To my constituents, I remain committed to serving the district, and delivering results for both New York’s Third Congressional District and for the American people.”
Before issuing the statement, Santos addressed Republican lawmakers in a weekly closed-door meeting they have when in Washington. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the decision was well-received from the GOP conference. “I think it was the appropriate thing to do and I was proud of him for getting up and doing this," Cole said.
McCarthy met with Santos on Monday night but did not disclose their conversation.
“You'll see,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol.
The questions surrounding Santos go beyond his misrepresentations to voters to include whether his congressional campaign followed the law in its reporting to the Federal Election Commission. There have been lingering questions about irregularities in his campaign committee's financial reports and the source of Santos’ wealth.
If Santos’ campaign is found to have knowingly and willfully made any “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” on its paperwork, it could potentially face criminal charges, the FEC said in a letter to the campaign last week.
Republicans described the decision by Santos to temporarily step down from the two House panels as voluntary. Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, the chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, said he was surprised.
“The bottom line is that he’s chosen to be off committees until his situation gets handled at a level that he’s comfortable with,” Williams said.
Democrats have been highly critical of Santos as well as McCarthy for his efforts to oust three Democratic lawmakers from committees, while at the same time backing committee assignments for Santos, who has lied so thoroughly to his constituents about his background.
“The hypocrisy just grabs you by the throat," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “This is a Republican speaker who is seating a human fraud, George Santos, on committees, a serial fabricator about every part of his existence."
McCarthy blocked Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., from being re-appointed to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, though they will be able to serve on other committees. He's also committed to removing Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from serving on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, though such a move would come to the full House for a vote, where undoubtedly Democrats would renew questions about the propriety of allowing Santos to sit on committees as their members are being removed.
Late Tuesday, House Republicans put in motion a process toward ousting Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, once she is formally seated on the panel for the new Congress. A vote by Republicans on a resolution to remove Omar from the committee could come as soon as Wednesday.
McCarthy has little margin for error if he chooses to pursue her expulsion for remarks McCarthy has described as antisemitic regarding Israel. Omar has apologized, and said in a CNN interview Sunday she “might have used words at the time that I didn’t understand were trafficking in antisemitism.”
Shortly after Omar arrived in Congress in 2019, the House approved a resolution condemning antisemitism and other forms of bigotry — without mentioning her by name — after she made remarks that critics said accused Israel supporters of having dual allegiances.
At least two Republicans had said they won't vote for Omar's removal from the foreign affairs panel. They said Democrats were in the wrong for removing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., from their committees two years ago. And Republicans were making a similar mistake when it came to Omar.
“It’s just wrong,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. “Let’s stop ruining this place. Let’s make it better.”
But McCarthy appeared to be winning over some GOP skeptics. Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., said previously “two wrongs do not make a right" when it comes to ousting Omar. She issued a statement Tuesday reversing course and stating she would support a removal resolution after McCarthy expressed his willingness to add due process provisions.
“I think setting a precedent of allowing an appeal process for the Speaker’s and majority-party removal decisions is particularly important to freedom-loving legislators who usually are on the receiving end of issues like this,” Spartz said.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and video journalist Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report.