Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has made no move to penalize or marginalize Representative George Santos even in the face of mounting allegations of misconduct and lies by the first-term New York Republican, has signaled that Mr. Santos will be allowed to continue to serve in Congress even after being indicted on federal charges.
“I’ll look at the charges,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday, before an indictment charging Mr. Santos with wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and lying to Congress was unsealed. “If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees. They have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial.”
Mr. McCarthy said his calculation could change if Mr. Santos were found guilty, in line with other top Republicans in the House who said Wednesday that they were focused instead on rooting out unemployment fraud during the pandemic.
“He was already removed from all his committees,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and majority leader, said during a morning news conference. “In America, there is a presumption of innocence but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”
Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York and conference chair, said that the legal process would “play itself out,” a notably different position from the rank-and-file New York Republicans who have long called for Mr. Santos to resign.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress from either party has been indicted,” Ms. Stefanik said. She said Republicans were more concerned with rooting out “any fraud when it comes to unemployment pandemic assistance.”
Mr. McCarthy and House G.O.P. leaders so far have made no move to punish Mr. Santos or nudge him toward the exits, even in the face of a litany of revelations about his conduct that he has refused to address.
Mr. McCarthy allowed Mr. Santos to be placed on two congressional committees in January, and when he temporarily stepped aside from them weeks later, Mr. McCarthy said it had been Mr. Santos’s decision to do so — though the speaker called it the “appropriate decision” for now, “until he could clear everything up.”
With a slim majority in the House and a fight over the debt ceiling looming, Mr. McCarthy cannot afford to lose Mr. Santos’s vote. Mr. McCarthy only narrowly passed a bill last month to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, with no Republican votes to spare and Mr. Santos in the “yes” column.
As negotiations with the White House continue, Mr. McCarthy will have to keep Republicans on the right flank of his party happy as he seeks to negotiate a deal with President Biden that will almost certainly be far less conservative than the bill the House passed.
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