WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that embattled freshman GOP Rep. George Santos of New York, who is facing growing calls to resign after he admitted having fabricated much of his personal biography, should not be seated on any top committees.
"No," McCarthy, R-Calif., said emphatically as he headed into a GOP Steering Committee meeting where members were deciding which colleagues should serve on certain committees.
Although Democrats and some Republicans have said Santos should not get any committee assignments at all, McCarthy confirmed later in the day that he would serve on at least one.
As speaker, McCarthy leads the influential steering panel.
Lawmakers of both political stripes argue that seating Santos on committees could be a national security risk. Democrats say McCarthy and the leadership team shouldn't seat Santos on any committees, while some Republicans agree with McCarthy: Keep Santos off the panels that handle the most sensitive, classified information.
Santos "probably shouldn't be on Intelligence or HASC" — the House Armed Services Committee — said a House Republican who frequently handles classified documents and information. The Small Business Committee "would be fine," the member added.
Another Republican, Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, the head of the Main Street Caucus, said Santos shouldn't serve on any committees.
"I think there's some legitimate concerns being raised about how he conducted himself during the campaign," said Johnson, who is not on the steering panel. "And if it was up to me, I wouldn't seat the guy at any committees until we have a fuller understanding ... of exactly what he did."
Santos, who won the race for a newly drawn New York district that includes parts of Long Island and Queens in November, made numerous claims during his campaign that were not true. He has acknowledged that he lied about having graduated from Baruch College — he says he did not graduate from any college — as well as about having worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. He also told the New York Post that he never claimed to be Jewish during his campaign but said he was “Jew-ish.”
Santos now faces immense pressure to resign just days after having been sworn into office.
Local, state and federal officials have launched investigations into whether he committed any crimes related to his personal finances, fundraising and lies about his life story. And Tuesday, two New York Democratic lawmakers hand-delivered a complaint to Santos that they had filed with the House Ethics Committee, seeking an investigation into his “failure to file timely, accurate and complete financial disclosure reports.”
Shortly after McCarthy spoke about Santos, leaders of the Nassau County Republican Party, based in Santos's district, called on him to resign.
A defiant Santos rejected the calls Wednesday: "I will not. I will not," he told reporters camped outside his office.
Leaving the steering meeting, McCarthy said he was standing by Santos and would not call on him to resign. He said that Santos would have to face the Ethics Committee but that he would get some committee assignment.
"I try to stick by the Constitution. The voters elected him to serve. If there is a concern and he has to go through the Ethics, we'll let him move through that, but right now, the voters have a voice in the decision ... so he will continue to serve," McCarthy said.
"He's gonna have to build the trust here, and he's gonna have the opportunity to try to do that. ... Is there a charge against him? In America today, you are innocent until proven guilty."
Santos, who has conceded that he overstated and embellished key aspects of his background, has given no indication that he plans to resign. He said he's open to any committee assignments the steering panel gives him.
"I'll take whatever I get. I'm not a picky person. I came here to serve the people," Santos told reporters who were staking out his office Tuesday.
"I've done nothing unethical."
Democrats, and many Republicans, disagree. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., a lawyer and member of the Judiciary Committee, said McCarthy and his team need to ensure Santos does not serve on any committee.
"It's really important that whoever is receiving this information be trusted with this information. And this person who came to office through, it seems, an innumerable series of lies and fraud, it's very worrisome," Dean said in an interview Wednesday.
"That's why the Republican Conference must do something about that," she added. Barring him from committees — "that's what leadership looks like."
Members of all congressional committees — including the Transportation and Agriculture panels — have access to sensitive information to a certain degree. And any sitting member of Congress can attend "all member" classified briefings on such topics as the war in Ukraine, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Covid-19 pandemic.
So even if Santos isn't granted a seat on a national security panel like Intelligence or Armed Services or a so-called "A-committee" — like Appropriations, Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce — he would still be privy to certain sensitive information.
House GOP Conference rules state that members must immediately step down from their committees if they are charged with felonies.
"There are procedures," said a steering panel member, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the dean of the House. "If [Santos] is indicted, then there are rules that say he would come off any committees."