Facing investigations after lying about whether he graduated college, worked on Wall Street, founded a charity, owned rental property, and descended from Holocaust survivors, Republican Rep. George Santos of New York may find it more difficult than the typical freshman lawmaker to deliver results.
“I don’t think that’s likely in the first couple of years,” says University of Virginia professor Craig Volden, the founder and co-director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking.
Usually, a new member of the House of Representatives needs to focus on staffing, building relationships, and getting plum committee assignments—all of which pose particular challenges for Santos, after a New York Times investigation published in mid-December revealed significant discrepancies between his campaign biography and his actual background. On Wednesday, Republican leaders in Nassau County, where Santos’ district is based, publicly called on him to resign.
The Center for Effective Lawmaking’s guide for new members suggests that hiring experienced staff should be a top priority for a first-term lawmaker, as it helps predict how effectively they will be able to pass laws. “It is really crucial to have people who do have experience on Capitol Hill,” says Volden. “Staffers are looking for their future careers and don’t necessarily want to be attached to anything that looks scandalous or problematic.”
According to LegiStorm, a site which tracks data about congressional staff, Santos’ hires so far include a former aide to Steve Bannon and Rep. Matt Gaetz, and one who worked for one-term Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who lost his seat last year amid numerous scandals.
Staffers for Santos did not respond to requests for comment about how he plans to be an effective lawmaker this term. A call to his office number went to voicemail.
Besides hiring a competent staff, building reciprocal relationships with other members—especially across party lines—is a key part of whether a freshman member can get work done. Whether it involves getting cosponsors for his bills or influencing legislation as part of a voting bloc, Santos will struggle if even members of his own party don’t want to associate with him.
“It’s going to be very difficult for him to move forward… to govern, to work with others; his colleagues can’t trust him,” fellow New York Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis told NY1 last week. Another Republican, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, expressed a similar feeling on CBS News on Sunday, saying, “It’s very difficult to work with anyone who cannot be trusted.” Former NRCC chair and Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions told the Washington Examiner in December that he was “not supportive” of Santos being part of the Republican conference. “The guy who lied about his résumé?” Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin asked when the New York Times brought up Santos last week.
Santos spent the first day of the new Congress sitting alone on the House floor while other members mingled. Between votes, he could often be spotted hurrying through the Capitol alone, dodging hordes of reporters, and only occasionally chatting with other Republicans. On Tuesday, after two Democrats lodged a formal ethics complaint against Santos, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise told reporters that the issue was “being handled internally.”
Already facing challenges networking with colleagues, Santos’ best hope for making a difference may be joining House committees that focus on the issues that matter most to his constituents, experts say. Following the drawn-out battle to elect Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, Santos’ committee assignments have not yet been finalized.
“Increasingly, leadership has been helpful to members who are in swing districts to identify those members who frankly need better committee assignments in order to demonstrate more results for their constituents,” says Bradford Fitch, the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.
Though Santos won his November race by more than 8 points, his Long Island and Queens-based district leans Democratic and voted for President Joe Biden over President Trump in 2020. During his campaign, he promised to work with both Republicans and Democrats to address inflation and reduce crime. After the election, he told NY1 he hoped to join the Financial Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, saying his Jewish identity and many years working in capital markets—both aspects of his biography which have since come into question—influenced those preferences.
Perhaps to avoid risking a special election in the competitive district, Santos has so far ignored calls for his resignation. Hit with a House Ethics Committee complaint Tuesday, Santos said he’d address the media soon.
“I have done nothing unethical,” he said.
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