Scandal-plagued Rep. George Santos told his GOP colleagues Tuesday that he would forgo the House committees he’d been assigned, two Republicans in the room told POLITICO.
The announcement comes days after senior House Republicans seated the New York freshman trailed by a cloud of apparent serial fabrications on two committees: Science and Small Business. But even those lower-profile Santos assignments quickly became a political liability for Speaker Kevin McCarthy‘s conference, particularly as Republicans scrape for the votes they need to yank Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
McCarthy told reporters that Santos’ move to step aside was “an appropriate decision … until he can clear everything up,” adding that he had met with Santos on Monday. Any members named to fill the spots Santos is forgoing, McCarthy added, would take those seats on a temporary basis.
Santos’ move drew immediate praise from 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 to POLITICO when asked about the move, just upon exiting the weekly closed-door meeting. He replied: “I don’t know.”
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.
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 Committee 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.