Republican leadership needs George Santos despite wire fraud and money laundering charges

New York Republican facing calls to quit, but with slim majority for GOP in House of Representatives, his vote is vital in the chamber

George Santos has been a controversial figure in US politics since his election to Congress for a New York constituency last November.

Santos was accused of wholesale lying about his education, his work history and even his heritage.

He faced calls for him to quit from Democrats and even some local Republicans in New York but remained defiant. He did acknowledge that he had embellished his biography, arguing that “a lot of people overstate in their résumés”.

Santos is now, however, facing a lot more trouble than a controversy over an alleged fabricated CV.


He has been charged by federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging indictment accusing him of wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public funds and lying in federal disclosure forms.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

All of this creates a significant political problem for the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.

Republicans won the House in November, to a significant degree by taking seats in previously Democrat constituencies in New York.

Even so the party only has a very slim majority. A handful of seats going the other way would see the Republicans lose control of the chamber.

A Santos resignation would lead to a byelection which could be won by Democrats.

All this explains why the Republican leadership has not been keen to act on the calls to eject Santos as the controversy around him developed.

On Wednesday, Republican leaders argued that Santos was innocent until proven guilty.

“He was already removed from all his committees,” Republican majority leader Steve Scalise said.

“In America, there is a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”

New York Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik said that the legal process would “play itself out”, a notably different position from the rank-and-file New York Republicans who have long called for Santos to resign.

Given its very small majority and with a big political row looming with the White House over the US debt ceiling, the Republican leadership cannot afford to lose Santos’s vote in the chamber.

Last month Republicans managed to get through a Bill which raised the debt ceiling in return for significant spending cuts.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy had no Republican votes to spare, and one of those who backed the measure was Santos.

There is no law that mandates that a person cannot continue to serve in Congress while facing trial.

Despite calls from some Republican politicians for him to quit, as long as he continues to retain the support of the party leadership, he is likely to be safe. What happens following a court case is another matter.