Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos of New York vowed Thursday to stay in Congress and serve out his full two-year term, brushing off howls of bipartisan criticism and calls for his resignation after he admitted to lying about his background.
“I wish well all of their opinions, but I was elected by 142,000 people,” Santos said in response to some of those GOP critics who have urged him to resign.
“Until those same 142,000 people tell me they don’t want me, uh, we’ll find out in two years,” Santos said during an interview with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on a conservative talk show.
Santos was sworn in Saturday and has refused calls to give up his seat. He has apologized for embellishing his resume but said he committed no crimes.
Santos has adopted a defiant tone against a growing chorus of opposition from within his own party.
More than a dozen top Republicans in Nassau County, where Santos’ congressional district is located, blasted the freshman lawmaker as a liar and a disgrace as they urged him to step down Wednesday. A handful of Santos’ fellow freshman House Republicans have joined in, including Rep. Nick Langworthy, who is also the chair of the New York Republican Party.
But newly minted Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is not calling on Santos to resign from the House, where Republicans hold a slim majority over Democrats and losing Santos’ vote would make the speaker’s job more difficult.
“Voters have elected George Santos,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill. “He is seated, he is part of the Republican conference.”
McCarthy appeared to note that Santos is facing an ethics investigation in the House, and said, “if anything is found to be wrong, he will be held accountable, exactly as anybody else in this body would be.”
The speaker suggested Wednesday that Santos would receive a committee assignment, though he ruled out the congressman getting a spot on the highest-profile panels.
On Thursday, McCarthy also ruled out the possibility that Santos would have access to top secret information for now.
“He’s got a long way to go to earn trust,” the speaker said.
McCarthy’s remarks contrasted with the barrage of criticism that Long Island Republicans hurled at Santos a day earlier.
“George Santos’ campaign last year was a campaign of deceit, lies and fabrication,” Nassau County Republican Party Chairman Joseph Cairo said. “He’s disgraced the House of Representatives and we do not consider him one of our congresspeople.”
Santos last month admitted to fabricating numerous details of his life and apologized for “having embellished my resume.”
But Santos also pushed back on some of the reporting from a bombshell New York Times investigation, including that he faces unresolved criminal fraud charges in Brazil from years ago.
“I am not a criminal here — not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world. Absolutely not. That didn’t happen,” he told the New York Post.
The Times reported last week that Brazilian authorities will revive that 2008 case against Santos.
“I’ve worked my entire life,” Santos told Gaetz in his interview Thursday. “I’ve lived an honest life. I’ve never been accused of any bad doing.”
That response came after Gaetz asked how Santos was able to lend his winning congressional campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those sums have reportedly come under scrutiny from state and local investigators.
Santos has remained defiant — his official social media accounts have even lashed out at some of his detractors online — and McCarthy has shown no willingness to try to expel Santos from the House by a two-thirds vote.
If Santos were to leave office, it would likely trigger a competitive special election in New York for his seat.