11 min read

Mr. Santos Goes to Washington

George Santos has arrived on Capitol Hill an awkward and largely isolated figure — but he’s picked up a key defender.
Mr. Santos Goes to Washington
(C-SPAN screengrab)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, January 12, 2023. The 2024 elections are 663 days away.

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With cover from McCarthy, George Santos’ scandal-tinged tenure begins

If you tuned into C-SPAN last week for the season’s hottest show, “Kevin McCarthy Seeks the Speakership,” there was a new character — ensnared in his own side drama — that kept popping up on the screen.

For most of the speaker voting, he sat alone in the House chamber, usually clad in a vest and sometimes glasses. After Mike Rogers, he was perhaps the greatest victim of C-SPAN’s short-lived liberation on Capitol Hill: for a freshman congressman, their cameras panned to him with unusual frequency during lulls in the action. Even the normally staid public affairs network seemed to relish in his apparent discomfort as he awkwardly acclimated to a new job.

I’m referring, of course, to Congressman George Santos, the newly-sworn-in Republican who was uncovered as a serial fabulist just weeks after being elected to the House by New York’s Third Congressional District.

Santos, in case you’ve lost track, lied on his résumé about the most basic details of his life, falsely claiming to have been an attendee of the prestigious Horace Mann High School and a graduate of Baruch College (he wasn’t) and to have worked at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs (he didn’t).

He also appears to have made up an animal rescue charity, his “Jew-ish” heritage, a story about losing colleagues at the Pulse nightclub shooting, and possibly even the nature of his mother’s death (he claimed it was 9/11-related) and about being one of New York’s first Covid cases. Oh, and he may be also be on the run from Brazilian embezzlement charges.

There are few details of his basic biography that George Santos hasn’t lied about. (Santos campaign)

In just the past 48 hours, here are the new revelations that have emerged about Santos:

  • He accepted an “almost certainly illegal” campaign donation from an Italian migrant smuggler who was related to one of his biggest supporters.
  • An aide to his campaign called major Republican donors pretending to be Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff in order to persuade them to contribute to Santos.
  • He lied about details both big (he worked for a company accused of orchestrating a Ponzi scheme longer than he acknowledged on his financial disclosure form) and small (he claimed to have been a volleyball star and to have had a 3.9 GPA at Baruch College where, again, he did not attend).

As the lies pile up, his GOP support is beginning to fade. Wednesday was when the dam broke: the first House Republican called for his resignation (New York Rep. Anthony D’Esposito) and four more quickly followed (Reps. Nick LaLota, Nick Langworthy, and Brandon Williams of New York, and Nancy Mace of South Carolina).

“What he’s done is disgraceful, dishonorable and unworthy of the office,” LaLota told Axios.

The leaders of his hometown Nassau County Republican Party also cut ties with Santos on Wednesday, holding a press conference to tell him to resign. “He deceived voters,” Joseph Cairo, the county GOP chair, said. “His lies were not mere fibs. He disgraced the House of Representatives... He’s not welcome here at Republican headquarters.”

Santos hovering near Matt Gaetz and his band of McCarthy rebels during the speaker balloting. (C-SPAN screengrab)

But at the same time as calls for his resignation began to grow, Santos also picked up a powerful defender: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. After remaining largely silent about Santos for the past few weeks, McCarthy said he did not see a need for the freshman Republican to resign on Wednesday.

“The voters elected him to serve,” McCarthy said, and “he has to answer to the voters.” They will “get to make another decision in two years,” the speaker added.

Reminded that Santos made up large swaths of his past, McCarthy seemed to bat away any concerns: “So did a lot of people here in the Senate and others,” he responded. (While other lawmakers have also told lies about their military service, ethnic heritage, and other parts of their résumé, no one in memory has done it to Santos’ extent.)

“Is there a charge against him?” McCarthy asked. “In America today, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

Allow me to decode for you the unspoken subtext of McCarthy’s statement. He may have dressed it up as a paean to the American presumption of innocence, but his call for Santos to stay in the House is really one of cold political calculus.

As was evident to anyone watching C-SPAN last week, McCarthy is working with the slimmest of margins in the House: a threadbare five-seat majority, to be exact. Santos, meanwhile, represents a blue-leaning district that President Biden won by 10 points in 2020.

McCarthy simply cannot afford to lose Santos and risk that a Democrat would win the special election to replace him, which seems possible after the Republicans twice ran an effectively made-up candidate for the seat. Such a result would cut even further into McCarthy’s already slim cushion of support and possibly throw his entire speakership into jeopardy.

George Santos poses an existential math problem for Kevin McCarthy. (Lingjing Bao / Talk Radio News)

That’s why, at least for now, Santos will remain in the House as a protected man, cloaked in the security of McCarthy’s vulnerability. Each day, he returns to Capitol Hill, and each day, he is immediately swarmed by the horde of reporters that seems to shadow him wherever he goes, camping out by his office and following him to the elevators.

His official website has been set up, with a biography scrubbed of almost any specific details, leaving just banal observations about his “drive, commitment and determination...inspired by the legacy set by his parents” and a promise to “be a voice for every community in the district.”

“He has experience delivering results in the business world,” the bio says, without naming any businesses he worked at. He is “the first non incumbent openly-gay Republican elected to Congress,” it does state proudly. There is an “In the News” section that, despite the voluminous press he has received, includes only the Wikipedia entry for the current Congress.

According to McCarthy, Santos will receive committee assignments, although not on the Financial Services Committee, as he requested. He has yet to publicly join any caucuses or show signs of forming relationships with other members; intriguingly, though, as the speakership votes dragged on last week, he was increasingly spotted sitting with (or at least hovering near) MAGA firebrands Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert.

He did not join their campaign against McCarthy (why upset a necessary ally?) but he does seem to have adopted their pugilistic Twitter style, telling anti-Trump former Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger to “go on CNN and cry about it” on Wednesday, and defiantly responding to his home-state critics: “I will NOT resign!”

A few news articles appear to be missing. (Screengrab)

Ask Gabe: The new “weaponization” committee.

Q: “What does the new ‘Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government’ hope to do?” — Bette M.

A: This question refers to the new investigative subcommittee that the House voted Tuesday, along party lines, to form.

The resolution creating the panel lays out several areas it plans to probe, including efforts by executive branch agencies to “collect information on or otherwise investigate” Americans, government officials working with private sector companies “to facilitate action against American citizens,” and other alleged civil liberties violations.

In practice, here are some of the programs and agencies Republican lawmakers have signaled they plan to probe:

  • The many federal investigations into Donald Trump and his allies, including the one currently being conducted by Special Counsel Jack Smith.
  • Justice Department efforts to address violence against school board officials, which Republicans have suggested was akin to treating parents as “domestic terrorists.”
  • Any coordination between Biden administration officials and social media companies like Twitter, especially possible attempts to censor posts about Covid or other issues.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is expected to chair the new select subcommittee. (Gage Skidmore)

With its broad portfolio, the subcommittee is being modeled after a select Senate panel from the 1970s known as the “Church Committee,” which investigated abuses by the FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, and other agencies.

Expect fierce legal battles to emerge from the subcommittee, with the Biden administration planning to bitterly fight GOP efforts to “investigate the investigators” and obtain documents relating to ongoing criminal probes. The Washington Post called it “the most contentious committee in the new Congress”; one lawyer predicted to Politico that the panel will be a “separation of powers hornets’ nest.”

As for structure, the committee will be composed of five Democrats and eight Republicans. Democrats have signaled that they will participate in the panel, unlike the GOP decision not to take part in the January 6th committee. (That decision came after Democrats vetoed some of the Republicans picks for the panel; Speaker Kevin McCarthy reserves the right to do the same to the Democratic picks on this subcommittee.)

The new select subcommittee will be housed under the House Judiciary Committee; Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is expected to chair both panels.  

More news you should know.

➞ Biden’s documents problem grows worse. “Aides to President Joe Biden have discovered at least one additional batch of classified documents in a location separate from the Washington office he used after leaving the Obama administration, according to a person familiar with the matter.” NBC

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to answer Wednesday why the Biden team did not disclose the discovery of the documents in November, when the first batch was found. According to CBS, Biden was informed that very day.
  • Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have begun calling for more information, while some GOP lawmakers are calling for the appointment of a special counsel.

Plus, a few more headlines:

  • “Hunter Biden’s Tangled Tale Comes Front and Center” NYT
  • “Supreme Court allows New York gun law to remain in effect for now” NBC
  • “Historic transportation crises haunt Buttigieg” Axios
  • “Republicans and Democrats, Unite Against Big Tech Abuses” WSJ op-ed by Biden
  • “Biden administration extends COVID-19 public health emergency yet again” Fox
  • “House Oversight chairman seeks Biden family financial transaction data” CNN
  • “How the humble gas stove became the latest flash point in the culture wars” WaPo

Circling back.

In Wednesday’s newsletter, I took a look ahead at the 2024 California Senate race, as Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) became the first to jump into the race.

Two updates: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a veteran liberal lawmaker known for her vote against authorizing the war in Afghanistan, reportedly told colleagues on Wednesday that she will run for the Senate seat as well. (The sitting senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, has yet to announce her plans.)

And Porter, who I referred to on Wednesday as a “prodigious fundraiser,” announced that she raised $1.3 million in her first 24 hours after announcing.

That’s a whopping sum for a Senate campaign — especially with almost two years to go until Election Day. Take it as a preview of, as I wrote, the big money that will be flowing into this race, with a number of high-profile contenders expected.

Barbara Lee told colleagues that she plans to run for Senate in 2024. (Gage Skidmore)

What your leaders are doing today.

All times Eastern.

Executive Branch

President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing, deliver remarks on the economy and inflation, and deliver remarks at a memorial service for former Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Carter, who served as Pentagon chief for the last two years of the Obama administration, died from a heart attack in October at age 68. Watch the economic speech at 10 a.m. ... Watch the memorial service at 11a.m.

Vice President Harris will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she will participate in a moderated conversation with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the Biden administration’s efforts to combat climate change. Watch at 2 p.m.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will stop by Capitol Hill to meet with the co-chairs of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism. Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold the daily White House press briefing. Watch at 1:30 p.m.

Legislative Branch

The Senate is on recess until January 23.

The House will vote on the Protecting America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve from China Act, which would prohibit the Energy Department from selling crude oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to companies controlled by the Chinese government.

950,000 barrels of crude oil from a 30-million barrel SPR release last year were sold to Unipec America, a subsidiary of Sinopec, China’s state-owned oil corporation. Watch today’s House session at 9 a.m.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled.

The trial of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four other members of the right-wing group is set to begin today with opening arguments. Prosecutors are using a rarely invoked Civil War-era law to charge the defendants with seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6th attack.

The beginning of the trial has been delayed several times, due to concerns about overlapping with the January 6th committee hearings, difficulties finding 12 impartial jurors in D.C., and one of the defense attorneys being temporarily barred from practicing law.

Before I go...

Here’s something uplifting: Jude Kofie is an 11-year-old piano prodigy from Aurora, Colorado.

When Bill Magnusson, a local piano tuner, heard about Jude — and learned that the boy’s immigrant parents are raising four children while also sending money back to Ghana to support relatives — he decided to give Jude’s old keyboard an upgrade.

Magnusson used his father’s inheritance to buy a $15,000 grand piano — estimated to be worth $45,000 — for Jude. He’s also paying for Jude to get professional lessons and promised to tune the piano once a month for the rest of his life.

“He’s Mozart-level. It’s coming from somewhere beyond,” Magnusson said of Jude, who had previously never received a single lesson. “We’re family now.”

Hear Jude play and hear interviews with him and Magnusson in this CBS video:

Thanks for reading.

I get up each morning to write Wake Up To Politics because I’m committed to offering an independent and reliable news source that helps you navigate our political system and understand what’s going on in government.

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Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe