It’s been days since Republican Congressman-elect George Santos was caught by the New York Times allegedly faking just about every element of his biography and the GOP response has been muted so far — most notably, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has yet to weigh in.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for the party to push Santos out. He may be the beneficiary of an unusual Congress in which almost no crime is worth losing a functional vote in the House.
KADIA AND BENJY'S VIEW
With 222 votes, a still-undecided race for speaker, and some of his most headache-inducing members integral to his majority, McCarthy is likely to have little space to worry about political hygiene. In fact, Santos resigning might be a worst-case scenario, leaving an empty seat for months and a special election Democrats might be favored to win.
“I honestly don’t know what to make of it,” Brendan Buck, a former aide to Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, said. “My expectation is they let him move forward while all this is investigated. It’s hard to see Rs being willing to give up that seat with such a tiny margin.”
Santos noticeably reiterated his support for McCarthy’s speakership bid on Twitter just before the New York Times story came out, a reminder of his unusual potential importance as a freshman backbencher.
McCarthy knows the value of a well-timed push. He urged Jeff Fortenberry to resign this year after he was convicted of lying to the FBI and previously kicked Steve King off of his committees over the Iowa Congressman’s white nationalist rhetoric.
Disciplining members for embarrassing the caucus or breaking with leadership is “surely tricker now,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. told Semafor.
Democrats see an opportunity in McCarthy’s more recent struggles to police his caucus. Dumping troubled members serves a purpose after all — it helps minimize distractions and keep the high ground in fights with the other side. McCarthy booted King, for example, just as he was leading the caucus into a fight with Rep. Ilhan Omar. D-Minn. over rhetoric about Israel that he said was antisemitic.
Facts First USA, the David Brock-led group formed to rebut the House’s investigations, released a strategy memo after the election urging Democrats to portray McCarthy as forced into a "corrupt bargain" with “ultra MAGA extremists” to maintain his weak majority. And they’re already eager to slot Santos into that frame.
“He doesn't even have the speakership locked in yet and so they can't afford to throw anybody under the bus, unlike in prior situations,” Brock told Semafor on Tuesday. “Now he needs every vote he can get.”
The Democrat who lost to Santos, Robert Zimmerman, complained to Semafor that the press dropped the ball on uncovering his past before the election, despite hints he wasn't all he seemed.