The people of New York’s 3rd Congressional District thought they were sending to the House a successful Jewish businessman who had attended an elite prep school, starred on the volleyball team at Baruch College, earned a graduate degree at New York University, worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, founded his own thriving asset-management firm, and served his community by running an animal-rescue charity.
Instead, they got none of the above.
They got Rep. George Santos (R), or “Anthony Devolder,” or “Anthony Zabrovsky,” or “Kitara Ravache.” Whoever he might be, he is not remotely the man those voters believed they were electing.
Santos defrauded his constituents, morally if not legally, and effectively disenfranchised them. More of his fabrications are revealed almost daily. His presence in the House chamber, where so much history has taken place, defiles and dishonors the institution — yes, that is still possible — and he should be promptly expelled.
This is something that Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on. Almost every member of Congress I’ve ever met, from either party, at some level understands holding elective office as a sacred trust. To accept a brazen charlatan such as Santos as a colleague is to mock the hallowed place they love to call the “People’s House.”
The excuse for doing nothing that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Santos have offered — that the people of his district decided Santos should represent them, and their will is sovereign — holds no water. Those voters chose a fictional character, a figment of Santos’s fertile imagination. Their will was not honored, but instead thwarted, by his myriad lies.
If Santos had, say, claimed a college degree that he fell just short of earning, or exaggerated his athletic prowess or his business acumen, I would understand a decision to let voters render their verdict in 2024. He would hardly be the first member of Congress to burnish a résumé. But I am aware of no precedent in which a representative or senator forged an entire gleaming persona out of patent lies.
There is no shame in capping one’s formal education with a high school equivalency diploma; Abraham Lincoln, who served a term in the House, never went to college, either. But to then claim both undergraduate and graduate degrees is indeed shameful, and dishonest, and perhaps pathological.
And given where his district is, it was unforgivable for Santos to falsely claim on his campaign website that his mother “was in her office in the South Tower” of the World Trade Center at the moment of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Santos said on Twitter that 9/11 “claimed my mother’s life.” He told voters that although she survived the attacks, she later died of cancer — implying that the illness was caused by toxic dust and debris from the towers’ collapse. There is no evidence that Santos’s mother worked at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and immigration records appear to show she was not even in the United States at the time.
In the parts of Queens and Long Island that Santos represents, many voters would have personally known office workers or firefighters who died on 9/11 or in the aftermath. For Santos to lie about having a personal connection to a tragedy so deeply felt by so many New Yorkers is cynical and sick.
I realize that calling for Santos to be expelled might sound quixotic. Yes, I know that Republicans have only a nine-seat House majority. I know McCarthy needed Santos’s vote to become speaker and will need his continuing support to keep that hard-won gavel. And I know there is a good chance that if Santos were tossed out, the seat might well go to a Democrat in a special election.
But even then, Republicans would still control the chamber. And McCarthy’s position is already precarious, since any member of the GOP caucus can force a vote on his ouster. Also, there is a practical question: How can McCarthy or anyone else in the House trust anything Santos ever says?
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Santos but usually moves at the speed of molasses in winter. Local and federal prosecutors, meanwhile, are following the money — looking into Santos’s personal and campaign finances — and McCarthy might be waiting to see what those probes unearth before taking any action.
If so, that is a mistake. It is already beyond dispute that injury has been done to the people of New York’s 3rd District, who are denied the representative they voted for. As speaker, McCarthy has a binary choice: Either he moves against Santos in defense of the House’s integrity — or he proves that it has none.