Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is stepping down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography.
Santos, who has admitted to fabricating details about his education, work, religion and heritage since his election in November, told House Republicans in a closed meeting Tuesday that he would remove himself from his assignments on the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The temporary retreat from committees marks Santos’s first major concession after weeks of maintaining a steadfast resistance to any consequences over his fabrications.
Santos told colleagues he will step down because “he’s a distraction,” according to a Republican lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. The conversation comes one day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
In that meeting, Santos and McCarthy discussed various scenarios, according to people familiar with the conversation. Santos asked if his committee spots could be held in reserve until the conclusion of an investigation by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, the people said. McCarthy expressed support for that idea, telling the New York congressman that he appreciated it.
Later Tuesday, Santos sent a letter to the speaker that codified what they had discussed. In the letter, Santos thanked McCarthy for the committee assignments but asked that he be able to temporarily step back from them to focus on his constituents.
The announcement comes the same day polling in his district showed the vast majority of voters think Santos should resign. More than three-quarters of registered voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District said he should leave the job, the Newsday-Siena College poll found.
Santos has given no indication that he plans to voluntarily give up his seat.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-Tex.) said he understood that the withdrawal from the committees is temporary, until Santos is cleared in ongoing investigations. The 34-year-old freshman Republican has faced increased scrutiny, including a federal probe into his campaign finances and a local investigation into his résumé fabrications, since the misrepresentations of his experience, personal life and education became known.
“It took me by surprise but it was probably the right decision,” Williams said.
“Without the ethics investigation being complete, I think it’s the right decision,” said Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.), who had also called on Santos to resign.
Emerging from the meeting, Santos declined to comment, saying, “I think you should talk to leadership if you want details pertaining to committees.” Later, when asked whether McCarthy urged him to step down, Santos answered that it was his decision.
“Nobody tells me to do anything,” he said. “I made a decision on my own that I thought best represented the interest of the voters.”
In a statement, Santos thanked McCarthy for discussing the decision “and allowing me to take time to properly clear my name before returning to my committees.”
Republicans in Santos’s Long Island-based district and several members of the House GOP have called for Santos to resign. However, McCarthy, who has a razor-thin GOP majority, has rebuffed those calls. Republican leadership has avoided rebuking Santos, and others have stopped short of demanding his resignation.
Asked whether she regretted supporting Santos after the news that he had stepped down from committees, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said voters had chosen to elect him.
“This process is going to play itself out,” the third-ranking House Republican said Tuesday. “But ultimately, voters are going to make that decision.”
Democratic leaders, who have repeatedly called for Santos to resign, questioned the latest forfeiture by Santos and the Republican reaction.
“I’m just struck by the chaos, confusion, dysfunction of the Republican conference,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said. “They defended putting him on committees and now they’re announcing that he’s not going to serve on a committee. So I just don’t understand what the play of the day is.”
The move by Santos comes as McCarthy is struggling to secure the GOP votes to get Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) off the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The speaker is determined to fulfill a years-long pledge after Democrats ousted two Republicans – Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) – from committees for backing political violence against Democrats on social media.
McCarthy said he wanted to remove Omar from the committee because of “repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks,” a reference to her using an antisemitic trope and comparing actions by the United States to those of terrorist groups, which she later clarified by saying, “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
But McCarthy has faced opposition from Republican Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.) and Nancy Mace (S.C.). Republicans have a slim majority that allows them to lose only four votes to pass anything. That margin is down to three as Rep. Greg Steube (Fla.) recovers at home after a traumatic fall. Late Tuesday, Rep. Victoria Spartz (Ind.) abandoned her opposition to ousting Omar after McCarthy made changes in the resolution.
John Wagner, Camila DeChalus and Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report.