Here Is What’s Next for George Santos Now That He’s Officially in Congress
The investigations are piling up—but don't expect him to be sidelined
Welcome to the first installment of Press Pass, a newsletter from The Bulwark in which I’ll take you behind the scenes in the Capitol and on the campaign trail. Twice a week, I’ll be lifting the veil on how Washington works, doesn’t work, and is downright weird.
And like everything we do at The Bulwark, we want you to be involved. If there’s something you’re interested in that’s not getting enough attention, let me know in the comments. If you’ve got a news tip, drop me a line at email@example.com.
After last week’s chaos in the Capitol, we’re pivoting to some of the smaller stories on the Hill.
What is next for George Santos now that he is officially a member of Congress?
The new congressman from New York had quite the first week in Washington. During the two weeks before he came to the capital, national news outlets poked holes in just about every part of his biography. Depicted on social media as an inveterate, maybe even pathological, liar, he spent most of his first day on the Hill sitting alone, occasionally meeting and greeting members, who quickly darted away from him after a brief handshake. As the week progressed and lawmakers grew fatigued by the speakership stalemate, some colleagues started to warm up to Santos. Photographers in the chamber caught him chumming it up and even sharing memes with his fellow Republicans.
Santos has already started hiring staff, including Rafaello Carone, an early twenty-something who in just the past two years has managed to work for Reps. Paul Gosar, Madison Cawthorn, and Greg Steube. Next for Santos is the issue of committee assignments, where he will have the most power during the 118th Congress.
A member on the House Republican Steering Committee told me everyone is likely to get committee assignments, including Santos. However, the troubled freshman is unlikely to receive any powerful or coveted posts.
When I asked Santos himself what committees he would like to serve on, he told me “I don’t know,” adding, “Anything I can do to serve the American people I’d be very happy with.”
But Santos’s many autobiographical lies, and the still-unanswered questions about his finances and background, have attracted a lot of attention from the authorities. Those are not going away. Three to watch include:
New York Attorney General Letitia James said that her office would be reviewing Santos’s record and inconsistent finances, although a formal probe has yet to be announced.
The Federal Election Commission: Yesterday, the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, filed an FEC complaint against Santos questioning how he managed to loan his campaign $705,000 despite only earning $55,000 and listing no assets in 2020. But the FEC is mostly toothless. It is unlikely much will come of this complaint.
The House Ethics Committee: This is where Santos’s case now gets interesting. The Ethics Committee is well positioned to open an investigation any day now. And while the committee generally focuses on the actions of representatives after they come into office, there is, as I noted last month, precedent for the committee to investigate members’ pre-congressional activities—as in the case of the 2017 probe into sexual-harassment allegations against Democrat Ruben Kihuen during his 2016 campaign.
Andrew Garbarino, a second-term Republican congressman whose district in Long Island neighbors Santos’s, speculated on Monday that the Ethics Committee is likely to dig into Santos’s campaign documents and financial disclosures.
“I think their responsibility would be over what he did—if he did anything—with financial disclosures. With what he’s had to file as a candidate,” Garbarino told me. “Lying on a resume, I don’t know if the Ethics Committee has really any say over that.”
This morning, freshman Democratic Reps. Ritchie Torres and Daniel Goldman, both of New York, filed a complaint against Santos with the Ethics Committee, alleging that his “sparse and perplexing” financial disclosures, which contradict various public statements he has made, amount to violations of the Ethics in Government Act.
But there might be a wait before the Ethics Committee can start any serious work on a Santos investigation. The Republican rules package that passed Monday evening effectively defanged the Office of Congressional Ethics. Made up of a six-member board (plus two alternates) and a small staff, the office was created in 2008 to serve as a kind of independent adjunct to the Ethics Committee—conducting investigations, sharing information, and making recommendations to it. The new House rules say the office can only hire new staffers before February 8 and with the support of four board members. But the rules also reimposed term limits on board members, effectively booting three of the four former members of Congress on the board. Those board members can be replaced, but that process could take some time, and probably can’t be accomplished before the February 8 window for hiring staffers closes. So the office could be crippled for the remainder of this congressional session; at the very least it may not be fully operational anytime soon. Considering how closely the office and the committee have sometimes worked together, a Santos investigation might be delayed.
Looking ahead, what can we expect of the new House Republican majority?
With Democrats still in control of the Senate and the White House, it looks like much of the next two years will be spent on “messaging” bills—that is, bills not expected to become law but just meant to send signals to voters—and narrative-driving oversight.
The Republicans who spent all of last week stonewalling Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid secured a long list of concessions and rules changes. Among them were promises to vote on a handful of far-right priority bills.
These bills, which have essentially zero chance of passing the Senate, include:
a bill to prohibit taxpayer-funded abortions (this is already federal law, but the proposal would go further to ban health coverage that includes abortion, as well as prohibit the procedure in a federal health care facility or by a federal employee);
the Born Alive Bill, which prohibits health care providers from “failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion” (another bill that seems unnecessary, since the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act has already been on the books since 2002);
a bill authorizing “the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend the entry of aliens”; and
a bill prohibiting the Secretary of Energy from sending oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China.
This kind of behavior began immediately Monday evening, when the House passed a bill to defund much of the plan to provide the IRS with 87,000 new staffers. Republicans claimed these new agents, which were authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act, were tapped to go after low-income Americans. Some GOP claims about these new hires, including that they would be “armed,” have been debunked. And yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office published an estimate showing that the bill would, counterintuitively, add $114 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade—since those 87,000 IRS hires wouldn’t be around to enforce the tax code.
But House Republicans get to have their cake (you never go wrong with voters by bashing the IRS) and eat it too (since they know they won’t get blamed for adding to the deficit, because the bill won’t pass the Senate).
You can anticipate a lot more of this kind of posturing over the next two years. If there are areas where bipartisan legislation is plausible, they are likely to be few and far between.