Kevin McCarthy, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, has said he will not support New York congressman George Santos’s bid for re-election after the freshman lawmaker was accused of committing a series of financial crimes and charged in a 13-count federal indictment.
Mr Santos, 34, was arrested on Long Island on Wednesday after surrendering to the authorities and pleaded not guilty to all charges, after which he was released on a $500,000 bond and took questions from the press. He declared in true Trumpian fashion that he was the victim of a “witch hunt” and insisted that he still intends to stand for re-election in 2024.
Mr Santos filed the necessary paperwork to run again with the Federal Election Commission back in March, allowing his campaign team to continue fundraising.
This week’s drama came after months of controversy swirling around Mr Santos, whose midterm victory over Democrat Robert Zimmerman was swiftly overshadowed in December by a New York Times investigation that exposed a prolific track record of lying about his past, or, as Mr Santos preferred to put it, “résumé embellishment”.
The man representing the city’s 3rd Congressional District was accused of lying about everything from his educational background and Wall Street work experience to the fate of his grandparents and mother, his past experience as a drag performer in Brazil, his prowess as a volleyball player and even a bizarre plot involving the invention of a fictional animal charity to channel money away from an Iraq War veteran’s dying dog.
Asked for a response to Mr Santos’s indictment by CNN reporter Manu Raju as he crossed the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, Speaker McCarthy said, chuckling darkly: “No, I’m not going to support him.”
When he was asked if that meant he would actively campaign against Mr Santos in any upcoming primary, the speaker said: “Santos has a lot going on. I think he has other things to focus on in his life.”
On whether he would demand the representative’s resignation if the House Ethics Committee ruled that he had broken the law, Mr McCarthy answered simply, “Yeah”.
The position marks a distinct hardening of the speaker’s stance on the Santos affair after he tried to avoid saying anything definite on Tuesday and then appealed for patience on Wednesday, shrugging off calls for his expulsion from Republican colleagues like former presidential nominee Mitt Romney and fellow New Yorkers Mike Lawler and Marcus Molinaro by saying: “He could go through his time of trial, we’ll find out how the outcome is.”
Back in January, when the revelations about Mr Santos’ history of dishonesty were continuing to snowball, Mr McCarthy was much more emphatic in supporting him, challenging journalists who asked about the situation by pointing out that he had not (then) been charged with any offences.
“You know why I’m standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him,” he told reporters on 24 January.
“I do not have the power simply because I disagree with somebody on what they have said that I can remove them from elected office.
“If, for some way, when we go through ethics and he has broken the law, then we will remove him. But it is not my role. I believe in the rule of law.”
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