George Santos, after weeks of causing trouble for Kevin McCarthy, finally relieved some on Tuesday.
The New York Republican announced plans to step aside from his two committee assignments, a decision that came one day after a private meeting with the speaker. While McCarthy wouldn’t say if he directly encouraged the move, the cloud of controversy that’s trailing Santos — whose pattern of serial misstatements has sparked multiple investigations — was complicating the GOP leader’s efforts to make good on the planned ouster of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from a key committee.
That’s in addition to the distraction that Santos himself was becoming for House Republicans, given the spectacle he’d create at otherwise straightforward hearings. So in one fell swoop, the freshman fabricator helped relieve two of McCarthy’s biggest current headaches, at least for now, while remaining a reliable floor vote by not resigning.
As the speaker promptly praised Santos’ “appropriate decision,” Republicans across the conference privately agreed that, with Santos off the Science and Small Business Committees, McCarthy’s leadership team would have an easier time rounding up the votes to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. And indeed, after a struggle to pull together the votes they needed, by Tuesday evening GOP leaders were confident to schedule a Wednesday vote to eject Omar from the panel.
It came after Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) shifted her position, asserting that McCarthy adjusted the “due process language” in the resolution — which establishes that any member has “the right to bring a case before” the ethics committee seeking the speaker’s reconsideration of a removal decision.
The House Rules Committee met Tuesday night on the resolution that will be introduced by freshman Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio). Still, McCarthy still can only lose four votes on his side, assuming full attendance from the likely united Democrats, and now the two Republicans who have publicly stated their opposition.
Senior Republicans leaned hard on Spartz and the other two members along with several other undecided Republicans, but two of them made clear the outreach hadn’t worked: “Oh, he’s called me yelling,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said of McCarthy. Referring to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s removal of two of Buck’s fellow Freedom Caucus members from their committees in 2021, Buck added that “I’m just not interested in removing members from the other party in retaliation for Pelosi’s terrible decisions.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), another opponent of the Omar removal resolution, pointed to “rumors of others being undecided, but who are not being vocal about it.” Two other House Republicans — Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Tim Burchett of Tennessee — say they have not made up their minds ahead of the vote on ousting Omar.
Notably, House Republicans who oppose or are on the fence about taking Omar off the foreign affairs panel are largely agreed with the rest of their conference in criticizing the Minnesota progressive, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Mace slammed Omar as “racist,” and an “antisemite” — a reference to her past criticisms of Israel, which Omar has apologized or attempted to clarify amid Democratic pushback — but then added: “That doesn’t give us a right as a conference to tell her what she should say or how or what her opinion should be.”
As McCarthy privately pressured key holdouts while his leadership team’s anti-Omar whip count still floundered, absences on his side of the aisle remained a concern. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), for one, is still recovering after sustaining critical injuries from a 25-foot fall.
After speaking one-on-one with Mace, McCarthy said they had a good discussion where he “just wanted to lay all the facts out,” arguing that there is “a lot of difference [between] what we’re doing [and] what Democrats” did during the last Congress by removing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from the committees in response to incendiary or threatening rhetoric.
That committee-seating process hasn’t been entirely simple for Republicans, either. Santos — who’s under a slew of local and federal investigations — had continued to grab headlines as he was assigned to his own pair of panels. In a statement on his decision, the New Yorker avowed that “the business of the 118th Congress must continue without media fanfare.”
Santos’ move was quickly embraced by his home-state GOP colleagues, several of whom have already called for his resignation amid the growing controversy over his misstatements about his past.
“I think it’s obvious it’s the right decision,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who toppled House Democrats’ former campaign chief in a swing-district midterm triumph two months ago.
Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) echoed that sentiment: “As I said, I think he should resign and focus on his defense. But, do welcome this decision.”
Santos declined to comment when first asked about the move Tuesday morning, later pointing to the party’s push to punish Omar for her own past remarks.
And there appeared to be some uncertainty on Tuesday about whether Santos — who faces multiple investigations on the federal, state and local levels into potential false statements about his background — would try to return to his committees at some point. McCarthy said that any members named to fill the spots Santos is forgoing would take those seats on a temporary basis, and Santos described his decision as similarly short-term in his statement.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said Tuesday morning that Santos had apologized and described his move as a temporary recusal, after which “he’ll come back” to the panels he’d not yet been seated on.
“It sounded to me like it’s temporary,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who chairs the Small Business Committee. “I think, until there’s a level of what he thinks the issues that he’s a distraction from are over.”
Despite the multiple probes Santos is currently dealing with, Williams said he didn’t sense the move stemmed from looming legal issues.
“I’ve seen members do that before, usually when they were under some sort of legal question or something like that — just step back on their own. If they don’t do it, we quite often do it ourselves,” House Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, adding that Santos “deserves some credit for doing it” before any internal move that may have been made against him.
The small business panel had not yet named its Republican members as of Tuesday. A panel spokesperson attributed the delay on Monday to reasons other than Santos.
Jordain Carney contributed to this report.