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Calls for George Santos to resign mount as he is seated in Congress

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Office of Congressman Ritchie Torres
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Twitter
The new Washington D.C. office for Rep. George Santos in the Capitol building.

George Santos sat by himself on the Republican side of the House floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote for House speaker.

His fellow Republicans from Long Island, Nick LaLota and Anthony D’Esposito, celebrated with family and newfound friends in the chamber — far away from Santos. Instead, they’ve called for among the first orders of business of the newly GOP-led House Elections Commission to investigate Santos for allegedly defrauding voters.

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Alex Brandon
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AP
Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y., top center, sits in the House chamber on the opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Washington.

Santos, a Brazilian immigrant who has admitted to “resume embellishments," ducked questions from reporters around the U.S. Capitol, including whether he planned to resign amid local, state and federal investigations into his personal, academic and financial histories.

This has sent many of his constituents into a frenzy, calling for his resignation.

“I lived in this district for so long, and I have my children, which are American citizens growing up in this district, and they will learn about, you know, this, the first Latino to Congress for the district, and it's really frustrating — infuriating,” said Angel Rivas, of Glen Cove.

“I mean, I really hope that one of his lies was that he's also not Latino,” he laughed.

Rivas, a DACA recipient and organizer at the immigrant group Make the Road New York, has joined hundreds of people rallying and petitioning in recent weeks since a New York Times article surfaced making allegations that Santos lied to get elected. “We need to keep holding him accountable … just making him feel pressure,” he said.

Santos is accused of embellishing jobs at Wall Street investors and schooled at prestigious colleges; to outright lies about descending from Holocaust survivors and knowing co-workers who were killed in 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

“The fact that he lied and stole my historical pain, my religion, my history, and used it to curry favor with voters,” said Susan Naftol, of Plainview, who identifies as Jewish. “It just is beyond the pale.”

More serious legal trouble around potential campaign finance and election disclosure violations is being looked at by the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office and New York’s state attorney general’s office. Santos’ financial disclosure forms show that he made a quick fortune despite recent money problems and that he spent large amounts of campaign funds on travel and hotels.

Queens prosecutors are also reviewing whether they have jurisdiction to investigate as Nassau County’s district attorney did.

“We need to know where his money is coming from, who funded him and where he spent it. “All political candidates need to be under severe campaign finance reform, and get money out of politics,” said Jeremy Joseph, of Hicksville, who has run for state Senate as a Democrat.

“I would like to see some evidence that they're actually investigating. I would like to be brought into the loop as far as being a constituent,” Naftol added.

In addition, the New York Times reports Brazilian prosecutors plan to revive criminal charges against Santos for allegedly stealing financial information to write fraudulent checks — which, if convicted, could carry a prison sentence of five years.

“I'm also at the same time, you know, a strong proponent of innocent until he was found guilty. Sadly, his lies, and his deceiving isn’t criminal activity,” Rivas said. “But it's certainly the worst type of behavior for an elected official, someone running for office.”

“But maybe we have a bigger of a monster in Congress,” he continued.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is poised to become the next House speaker, has notably remained silent. Santos, 34, therefore is a newly seated member of Congress “deemed inherently trustworthy of the offices they hold,” according to the Office of the Clerk, and now represents New York’s third congressional district, including northern Nassau County and Queens.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), a former House Ways and Means chairman who is retiring from the House after serving for 25 years, said Santos needs “to take some huge steps” to regain trust and respect in his district.

“This is troubling in so many ways. Certainly, he’s lied repeatedly,” Brady told Fox News Sunday. “He certainly is going to have to consider resigning.”

Democrats in Congress are expected to pursue a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and introduce a resolution to expel him.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) proposed a bill that would require candidates for public office to disclose information about their background and qualifications under oath — The SANTOS Act, which stands for Stop Another Non Truthful Office Seeker.

“I think we need to understand that we live in a new era of American politics. I mean, like a post-Trump era, right?” Rivas said, advocating for the federal bill. “We shouldn’t reward people that lie to their constituents, so blatantly, right? And if that's not the case, at least we need local municipalities and localities to start pushing for some of these policies that will, you know, have consequences for these people.”

Advocates are also calling for local and state campaign finance reforms to intensify penalties for people lying their way into office, and help promote competition in party primaries.

“There's a lot of work to be done in both making sure someone like him doesn't get elected again, and educating the public more on policies that will really help them because a lot of this was the cycles based on fear mongering and things that aren't really true,” said Andrew Engel, of Floral Park in Queens, co-leader of the Sunrise Movement New York City legislative advocacy team.

Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, D-Woodbury, has introduced a similar bill on the local level. This bill would make it a misdemeanor in Nassau County for a candidate or elected official to lie about their registered address, employment history, education, and income.

“Any ordinary citizen applying for a job can have that job revoked for a lie on one line of the resume. For George Santos to fabricate virtually his entire resume and life, and to serve is preposterous,” Lafazan said.

The goal is to work with the GOP-led county legislature to pass the law as early as the end of the month, he said, in order to send a message to Santos. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, has also called for investigations into the freshman congressman.

Lafazan, who lost a primary against Santos’ opponent, Robert Zimmerman, said he is also concerned that the freshman congressman will evade accountability as the legislative session continues — or get mired in partisan politics.

Democrats blame Republicans for either blindly — or worse, knowingly — running Santos as their candidate. Progressives are blaming Nassau County Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs, who also leads the statewide party committee, for lacking opposition research ahead of Election Day.

“I hope Jay Jacobs finally decides to start leaning in a bit better and pay attention to these races as well, because he's part of the reason we ended up with a George Santos — for him not spending any money on this race and kind of focusing on fighting Progressives instead of trying to hold on to the House,” Engel said. “Because, as I think a lot of people know, New York is why we lost the House.”

The calls on Tuesday for Republicans to unify their condemnation are a tall order when Santos is among the newcomers voting for McCarthy in for House speaker against more far-right members of Congress.

Many local Republicans have called for investigations into Santos, but statewide GOP has stopped short of calling for his resignation.

Joseph Cairo, the local Republican Party chairman, blasted Santos for lying, but said he should serve his term in Congress. Nassau County GOP already pulled support from him for 2024.

“The thing that's more appalling to me is that I feel like the elections here on Long Island were Republican swept because of the crime issue, but then they literally voted in a criminal, who lied about everything,” said Rachel Klein, founder of Long Islanders for Gun Safety. “And so this man is now going to Congress. And most Republicans are not saying a word about it.”

“I would like to see him removed,” she continued. “I would like to see a new election — that would be ideal.”

If Santos were to resign — through sanction pressure, investigations or ousted by the two-thirds vote of the House — it would trigger a special election, meaning the GOP would have to defend its newfound majority in the House.

“That's the whole thing with our government: We should [encourage] anyone who feels they want to represent should put their hat in the ring and run,” said Joe Sackman, who has served on the board of directors for the New York Progressive Action Network, and has run for state Assembly as a Democrat. “But if someone has red flags, you know, put someone up against him and a primary and [Republicans] didn't.

In the meantime, his constituents are concerned he won’t be doing much actual legislating.

Lafazan said there are several priorities the third district needs, including full restoration of state and local tax deductions, as well as major federal infrastructure funding for roads, bridges and storm resiliency on Long Island Sound. “And rather than going on being an effective member of Congress, George Santos is busy trying to keep himself out of jail,” he said.

“He does have a far, far-right mentality and approach to politics [and], you know, usually are the marginalized communities and the historically oppressed communities that get the end of the stick,” Rivas added.

So, constituents, who watched Santos be sworn in Tuesday, said they will continue to rally and petition “like a steady drumbeat” for their elected leaders and national figures to hold him accountable.

“Today, I called his office in Washington. I vowed to do that every single day until he either resigned or was run out of town. Either way, this cannot stand,” Naftol said.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
Eric Warner is a news fellow at WSHU.