Kevin McCarthy "stands by" George Santos: Now the MAGA caucus owns his lies

The Republican Party's illicit affair with a con man has already gone south. But Kevin McCarthy can't let go

Published January 27, 2023 5:30AM (EST)

U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) (L) stands with to Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) (L) stands with to Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Wednesday that he is all in for Rep. George Santos, the embattled New York Republican who appears to have invented his entire résumé: "You know why I'm standing by him?" McCarthy told the media. "Because his constituents voted for him." 

That came just a day after McCarthy, who appointed Santos to two committees last week, ejected Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., from the House Intelligence Committee. 

Wait! Didn't their constituents elect them, too?

McCarthy and his MAGA caucus' arrangement of convenience with Santos has the hallmarks of an illicit affair: Hypocrisy, protective cover-ups and even occasional spats all have their part. 

Transactional arrangements of convenience are all about satisfying mutual needs. Boosting each partner's power can be part of the art of the deal. If we look beneath the sheets of phony talk, one thing is clear: McCarthy and the GOP majority now own every lie that Santos told in getting himself elected.

That's not much of a surprise, honestly. Donald Trump made lying the Republican brand. Santos is merely the latest, greatest example. 

You can count on plenty more coming from the House Oversight committee chaired by Rep. Jim Comer, R-Ky., which features consummate GOP bomb-thrower Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and such fellow  MAGA extremists as Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

In the MAGA game of power for its own sake, telling voters the truth now seems to be off the table. It's a dog-charity-eat-dog-charity world out there.

In case you missed the reference, Santos allegedly used a fake dog charity to steal $3,000 raised to help military veteran Rich Osthoff's critically ill dog.

That's by no means the latest of Santos' fictions to come to light. On Wednesday, ABC News reported that the purported "treasurer" of Santos' congressional campaign, whose name is listed on a newly revised Federal Elections Commission form, has denied any association with the campaign. 

The new form looks to be a flailing attempt to correct multiple false statements made on Santos' previous form. That's not just lying times lying; it's also federal crimes squared.  

And that's not to mention the frauds inflicted on New York's voters among Santos' well-chronicled lies. He claimed to have two college degrees when he has none, claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup when he worked at neither, and falsely claimed that four of his employees died in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida, that his grandparents had fled the Holocaust in Ukraine and that his mother had survived the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers.

And that list doesn't even include the grave, and equally false, claim that Santos played on a championship volleyball team at Baruch College!

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With McCarthy's statement that he "stands by" Santos, the speaker of the House explicitly assumes responsibility for the lies. The vast majority of MAGA House members also own those lies through their silence.

Even those Republican members of Congress willing to go on TV to say that Santos should resign looked an awful lot like cast members in political theater. Why wait until after Santos cast his decisive vote for McCarthy's speakership? 

And if they were looking to have a real world effect — rather than a show of faux-righteousness — why not challenge McCarthy to do something by filing a motion to vacate the speakership unless he acts to expel Santos from the House? Under the new rules changes the MAGA group of 20 forced on McCarthy, a single member can file such a motion.

Even those Republicans willing to go on TV and urge Santos to quit are just acting out political theater. They won't challenge Kevin McCarthy to do anything about it.

Consider this asymmetry with the Democrats. In December 2017, Sen. Al Franken quickly resigned over allegations of unwanted kissing or touching of women, after Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York and then-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both fellow Democrats, demanded it. There were no mincing words and no equivocation over Ethics Committee hearings.

Even hard-nosed former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after briefly trying the Trumpist "deny and counterattack" approach, was forced to step down in November 2021 under a barrage of unrelenting pressure from his own party following similar allegations.  

The MAGA caucus is different, and interested exclusively in holding power for its own sake and at all costs. They know as well as McCarthy does that they will need Santos' future votes in a razor-thin House majority..

In Santos' personal case, he may be after tangible personal benefits: The lifetime health care coverage and pension afforded to members of Congress are why he ran in the first place, according to a former roommate.

Here's the joke the MAGA House seems to be playing on ordinary Americans: Republicans steadfastly opposed Obamacare and steadily denigrated and demolished the unions that once provided pensions to working people. Now the GOP is stuck with a credibly accused con man who found a way to score those benefits for himself, by lying all the way into Congress. 

Republicans like to present themselves as the party of individual initiative. Was this what they had in mind?

By Dennis Aftergut

Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, is currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

MORE FROM Dennis Aftergut

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Commentary George Santos Kevin Mccarthy Republicans