‘We do stupid things in life’. The newly-elected US Republican Congressman George Santos made this claim after it was discovered that he had lied extensively in his resume, making false claims, such as writing that he graduated from New York University, and worked at the prestigious Goldman Sachs. Is this, as Santo claims, just a ‘poor choice of words’, something to be trivially dismissed so as to allow the important business of Congress to continue, or does this have more serious political, and legal, implications? The House Ethics Committee has come to the conclusion that these lies are a cause for concern, as Santos is currently under investigation. However, there are many politicians, including Santos himself, who argue that this undermines political proceedings over a mere mistake from which we should all move on.
Santos’ reputation is indeed faltering. The line between a small white lie, and a full-blown falsehood has clearly been crossed, as his resume has been revealed to include many false claims. These include that his grandparents fled the Holocaust, and that his mother died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Neither of these appear to be true. His voters have been misled, and a Newsday and Siena College poll shows that 78% want him to step down, implying that they are indeed feeling a sense of betrayal. This certainly doesn’t suggest that people are ready to move on from his blunders, but instead want to hold him accountable, demonstrating the steadfastness of the political system, although his seat currently remains safe. This sentiment is echoed within Congress, as 10 Republicans have called on him to resign, whilst others are refusing to collaborate with him on legislation and party business. Santos is becoming a liminal figure, clinging on to his desperate desire to fulfil his mandate, but becoming increasingly unable to do so as he is shunned by his colleagues and opponents alike. Even those who endorsed him in his 2022 campaign, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have admitted they would not support his re-election, although McCarthy has also acknowledged that no action should be taken unless the House Ethics Committee raises concerns. Not only has Santos undermined political proceedings through his lies, but continues to do so through holding onto his seat, which raises doubts over his position in its entirety. It also means those who voted for him currently have only a limited voice in the legislature, as a result of his limited influence.
However, how much does a resume really impact Santos’ position? He insists that he was elected based on his merits and campaign promises, not because his resume, which voters are highly unlikely to even read, makes false claims. He aims to save the “American Dream” that his Brazilian parents achieved, and argues that he was ‘elected to serve the people of [electoral district] NY03, not the party and politicians’. Santos’ current marred political influence is preventing this mandate from being fulfilled, with his supporters arguing that this should be dealt with by moving on from the incident. Fellow New York Republican representative Marcus Molinaro claims Santos is a ‘bludgeoning tool the Democrats are using without regard for the truth’, and that, instead of focusing on serious political issues, the Democrats are merely targeting the Republicans for Santos’ behaviour, using him as a scapegoat to distract from political debates. He argues that it would be more beneficial for political proceedings to move on, especially since Santos was legally elected, to allow Congress to return to a state of normality and for Santos to regain his political legitimacy.
If only the resume was the only thing preventing Santos from moving on and running for re-election, something which it appears he is interested in trying to do. However, the problems run far deeper, causing the House Ethics Committee to launch an investigation. Santos spent $700,000 on his campaign, well above what his finances could afford, meaning there are concerns as to the sources of this funding. Even more worryingly, there has been an allegation of sexual misconduct filed against him. Although there are debates over whether Santos did indeed break the law in his untruthful resume, as he was elected legally, there is far more certainty over his unlawful behaviour in the past, as he is facing fraud charges following a theft of a chequebook in Brazil, from which he spent at least $700. When seen from this wider perspective, it seems far clearer that Santos’ position is under pressure. Although he argues that he was legally elected and seated without objection, his unlawful behaviour, stemming from multiple sources, suggests a disregard for the law. To have a potential lawbreaker in such a position of power sets a bad example to his voters, undermines the power of legislation, limits political legitimacy, and leads to the question: has he truly learnt his lesson?
As the investigation continues, the outcome remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Santos’ position is – for the moment – secure, although his political influence remains severely damaged. He has few allies, has stepped down from committees, and a bill has now prevented him from profiting from book deals, speeches, and TV appearances. This marginalised figure does not wield the same political influence as his colleagues, and although the legal system is holding fast, as politicians have ensured Santos is held to account, concerns remain. Can the congressman carry out his job effectively due to this undermined legitimacy? For the moment however, his future hangs in the balance, with his fate to be decided by the investigation.