WASHINGTON — Embattled Rep. George Santos is refusing to face the music, but he appears to be relishing his moment in the spotlight.
Santos, the New York Republican, freshman fabulist and subject of federal, state, local and international investigations, was spotted Wednesday night by NBC News smiling, laughing and taking dozens of selfies with patrons during karaoke night at a popular Washington barbecue joint.
“Many people are asking why I’d want a selfie with George Santos, to which I say who *wouldn’t* want a picture with the lead singer of Queen, father of Texas BBQ, Purple Heart Iraq war hero, and three-time Super Bowl champion?” tweeted Natalie Johnson, a former GOP Hill staffer who snapped a selfie with Santos.
While he didn’t grab the microphone and sing when an emcee called out his name — “George, you’re on deck!” — Santos hung with a group of his staffers, reporters, lobbyists and a former lawmaker and had the entire basement of Hill Country Barbecue buzzing, according to people who were there.
The group, which included former Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., tried to get him to sing karaoke, and he seemed to consider getting up onstage with the band but ultimately declined, according to Politico Playbook and witnesses.
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His song of choice, Santos told friends: “I Will Survive.”
“Everybody’s got to relieve stress somehow, and he’s got a lot to release,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who heard about Santos’ karaoke outing but was not there.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said: “Any outside observer can tell you that this is someone who is absolutely, thoroughly, completely loving the attention he’s getting. It’s bizarre.”
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., whose office is just down the hall from Santos’, suggested all the attention could benefit Santos. "The constant coverage could turn him into a martyr," Burchett said.
George Anthony Devolder Santos has spent weeks running and dodging questions from the media. But his big karaoke night in Washington was just the latest sign of how the serial sensationalist has switched up his strategy for dealing with a stack of controversies that keeps piling higher with each day: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
In addition to hitting the town, Santos has left out treats this week for the pack of reporters and camera operators who have been diligently staking out his office in the Longworth House Office Building since his scandal broke. On Tuesday, it was Dunkin' donuts, Wednesday was Chick-fil-A sandwiches and on Thursday it was rainbow-frosted cupcakes.
And in recent gaggles, Santos has stopped to spar with reporters — even if he’s not providing any substantive answers to the numerous questions about his checkered past and campaign finances.
What happened to the $3,000 he raised through GoFundMe for a Navy veteran’s ailing dog?
“All of these questions will be answered,” Santos replied to a dozen reporters just off the House floor. “We’re going to be doing a nice sit-down with everybody, so it will be fantastic to address every single issue."
Have you been contacted by the House Ethics Committee?
“I have not,” Santos said.
Are you in touch with your legal team?
“With my legal teams? Do I have a legal team? I’m asking, do I?” Santos asked reporters with a smile. “You always know more than I do about myself.”
Later that night, Santos strolled into Hill Country, where he spent more than an hour schmoozing and chatting up patrons. While he was there, someone sang Green Day’s “Basket Case."
A Santos staffer belted “Build Me Up Buttercup.”
Approached by NBC News at Hill Country, Santos said: “You’re not going to try to interview me. … I’ve said when I will respond to the press, it’s going to be comprehensive. Not now, not like this.”
Asked whether a member of Congress who is facing so much controversy should be out at a karaoke bar taking selfies, Santos’ staffers ushered him away.