Beleaguered Republican Rep. George Santos takes to the House floor most days to deliver short speeches — celebrating women-owned small businesses, a special high school in his district or expressing concern about various countries in crisis.
At other times he can be seen running through the halls of the US Capitol as lawmakers do, from one meeting to the next. He once handed out donuts to the press corps crowding his office.
Far from being punished by the widespread criticism, ridicule and rejection that Santos has received since admitting to fabricating many aspects of his life story, the newly elected congressman continues bravely in Congress. He refuses calls for his resignation while rewriting the narrative in real time.
For Santos, it’s an unusual top-down approach that would have been almost unthinkable a generation ago, but one that signals the new rules prevailing amid a deepening post-truth era in Congress.
“I was elected by the people to come here to represent them, and I do that every day,” Santos told The Associated Press in a brief interview outside the House floor.
“It’s a tough job. If I said it was easy, I’d be lying to you — and I don’t think that’s what we want, right?’
Pressed on the idea of a post-truth era, Santos said, “I think the truth still matters a lot.”
Perhaps not since Donald Trump began his presidency with exaggerated claims about the size of his inauguration crowd has an elected official arrived in Washington and tried so brazenly and defiantly to convince the public of a different reality than the one before him. their eyes.
Santos is coming of age in a period of unhinged political life, when a sworn member of the US Congress can hang on, as usual, despite the fact that he lied to voters about his resume, experience and personal life as a candidate. for elected office.
While Santos faces a slew of investigations — from the House Ethics Committee and a New York county district attorney — as well as questions from previous charges in Brazil, where he lived for a time, he seems unfazed by the challenges.
Just a few days ago, Santos filed papers to run for possible re-election.
“It used to be that when a politician lied and got caught, there was shame — or there was some kind of accountability,” said Lee McIntyre, author of “Post-Truth” and a researcher at Boston University.
“What I see in the post-truth era is not just that people are lying or lying more, it’s that they are lying with a political purpose,” he said. “The really scary part is getting away from it.”
At stake is not just “truth,” as comedian Stephen Colbert once called lies in public life, but broader questions about the expectation of truth-telling by political leadership.
Santos admitted that he had presented himself as someone he was not — not a college graduate, not from Wall Street, not from a Jewish family of Holocaust survivors, not the son who lost his mother in the 9/11 attack on the World Center Trade.
In the intervening time, more questions have come, including the origin of a $700,000 loan he gave to his congressional campaign and his own reported wealth.
Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito of New York, a freshman who won election last fall from neighboring Long Island, said: “I don’t think it’s the state of politics. I think it’s a person’s state – and the state he’s in is a state of delusion.”
D’Esposito has introduced a pair of bills that would prevent elected officials from profiting from wrongdoing, and said he is working with others to ensure Santos is not “the face of our party. We’ve cleared that up. It’s not our brand. It is not part of us.”
While Santos has recused himself from his committee duties while the investigations are ongoing, he has withstood pressure from Republicans to resign and from Democrats to be removed from office.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who won a slim Republican majority with a handful of seats to spare, said voters elected Santos and “he has the right to serve.” If found guilty, Santos could be removed from office, he said.
“He should have resigned a long time ago,” said Rep. Robert Garcia of California, the Democratic freshman class president who sponsored the resolution to expel Santos.
“It’s not just his Democratic and Republican colleagues in New York who are saying that,” Garcia said in an interview. “Nobody Wants Him in DC”
But Santos appears emboldened as his profile has risen, even parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” He has introduced his own bills in Congress — including one requiring cognitive tests for presidents — and is trying to move forward.
“I put up with it and cleared it up,” he said, referring to the public apology he made in December.
When President Joe Biden arrived to deliver the State of the Union address last month, Santos angered his colleagues by positioning himself on the main aisle — the place to see and be seen greeting dignitaries. He was rebuked by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who said it was inappropriate for Santos to “parade in front of the president” and others.
“Senator Romney was echoing something that I’ve heard all my life, right, coming from a minority group, coming from a poor family: Go in the back room and shut up. Nobody cares to hear about you,’” Santos recalled. “Well, I’m not going to do that.”
Santos often turns the tables, performing the baptism that has become commonplace in modern politics—the verbal somersault of equating his actions with those of others, even when they are not entirely comparable situations.
“You know,” said Santos, “you’ve never lied? Think hard.”
It’s what McIntyre calls a classic “disinformation tactic” designed not to bring clarity but to confuse and avoid accountability.
Asked if he was here to stay, Santos said: “I’m here to do the job I was elected to do for the next two years.”
But will he run for re-election? “It can.”