Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) decision to step away from committee assignments is colliding with another controversy over committees: House Republicans’ quest to block Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs panel.
There is no public indication that GOP leadership pushed Santos to step down to make it easier to block Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Santos said that he made the decision to step aside on his own.
But Santos has connected the two situations, and both demonstrate the stumbling blocks the new GOP majority faces as it works to iron out its values and leadership style.
The trouble started in mid-January, when the House GOP Steering Committee moved to assign Santos to the Small Business and Science, Space and Technology committees, despite bipartisan calls for resignation over fabrications about his background and questions regarding his personal and campaign finances.
That prompted immediate criticism from Democrats, who blasted the judgment of seating Santos as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) moved to block Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with California Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the House Intelligence Committee.
Then frustration started to bubble up among House Republicans. A few members indicated they would not support removing Omar over past comments that McCarthy says were antisemitic, and that she has apologized for. With a narrow majority, the math of removing Omar started to get complicated.
The challenge of getting enough votes to remove Omar factored into Santos’s decision to step aside, he told the Washington Examiner.
“Staying true to my constituency and to what I believe in, Ilhan Omar must be removed from Foreign Affairs — that is out of the question. So if I was going to distract or take away from that opportunity that was the decision,” Santos said.
Santos informed House Republicans during a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday morning that he would recuse himself from his panel assignments “temporarily” and “until I am cleared,” he said in a statement.
His announcement came one day after he met with McCarthy and asked if he could step away from his panel assignments — a move the Speaker called “the appropriate decision.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said the “drama” around Santos was related to the Omar issue.
“Just all the controversy surrounding him and then while we’re working to remove Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs,” Greene said.
Two of the holdouts on Tuesday said the Santos situation did not affect their thinking on Omar.
“Doesn’t affect me, no,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said when asked if Santos’s announcement changed his thinking. “I don’t know what the connection [is].”
Buck staked his opposition to kicking Omar off the Foreign Affairs panel last week, voicing concerns about a “tit-for-tat” when dealing with committee assignments.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) on Tuesday said Santos’s decision did not move the needle for her at all when it comes to Omar’s committee assignment. She has said that Omar has the right to express her own opinions.
“Totally different argument,” she told The Hill when asked about Santos’s decision to step aside from committees.
But after Santos’s decision to bench himself from committees, McCarthy’s odds of booting Omar from the Foreign Affairs panel ticked up.
A compromise resolution released on Tuesday included language that described a process for members to the House Ethics Committee to appeal removal of a member to the Speaker, but Democrats say the language does not formally create that process.
Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) announced Tuesday that due to that language, she would support the effort to remove Omar after previously saying she was a “no.”
“I appreciate Speaker McCarthy’s willingness to address legitimate concerns and add due process language to our resolution,” Spartz wrote in a statement. “Deliberation and debate are vital for our institution, not top-down approaches.”
“As to my fellow conservatives, I think setting a precedent of allowing an appeal process for the Speaker’s and majority-party removal decisions is particularly important to freedom-loving legislators who usually are on the receiving end of issues like this,” she added.
With that change, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Tuesday that Republican leadership had the votes to block Omar.
Republicans say they are prepared to bring up the resolution Wednesday, assuming Democrats formally submit their names for the Foreign Affairs Committee before then.
McCarthy pledged in June 2021 that he would remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs panel after making remarks that were critical of the Israeli government and its supporters, especially on matters connected to Palestinian rights — some of which have drawn accusations of antisemitism. In 2019, she was forced to apologize after suggesting that AIPAC, a lobbying group that champions pro-Israeli policies, was paying Americans politicians to support Israel.
The effort has largely been viewed as a GOP-led rebuke of the decision by House Democrats in 2021 to strip Reps. Greene and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) of their committee assignments for promoting violence against Democrats.
In speaking out against the crusade, Democrats have cited McCarthy’s decision to seat Santos on committees — despite his admitted fabrications and financial scrutiny — as they focus their attention on blocking Omar.
“The hypocrisy just grabs you by the throat,” Schiff said last week when asked about how the GOP has handled Santos and Omar. “This is a Republican speaker who is seating a human fraud, George Santos, on committees. A serial fabricator about every part of his existence. He’s perfectly comfortable with it, he needs George Santos’s vote.”
Santos’s sidelining, however, could only be temporary. McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that Santos will be seated on committees once he is “cleared” by the notoriously slow-moving House Ethics Committee. Two New York Democrats filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee that accuses Santos of failing to file timely, accurate and complete financial disclosure reports.
“The voters have elected him, they’ll have a voice here in Congress, until he answers all those questions,” McCarthy said. “At that time he’ll be able to be seated on committees.”
But two other first-term New York Republicans who have called for Santos to step down from Congress altogether — Reps. Nick LaLota and Anthony D’Esposito — are showing no signs of warming to Santos as he steps down from the two panels.
“This is a classic case of someone quitting right before they were going to get fired,” LaLota and D’Esposito said in a joint statement. “While we, and the overwhelming percentage of Long Islanders we represent, are relieved to see that Santos will not be undeservingly sitting on committees, he should still do the right thing and resign.”