Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday said Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) will be removed from office if the House Ethics Committee finds that the embattled congressman broke the law.
The remark is McCarthy’s most extensive comment yet on potential punishments Santos could face amid the mounting controversies and accusations against him.
“If for some way when we go through Ethics and he has broken the law, then we will remove him,” McCarthy told reporters during a press conference just outside his office.
“The American public in his district voted for him. He has a responsibility to uphold what they voted for, to work and have their voice here, but at any time, if it rises to a legal level, we will deal with it then,” he added.
Democratic Reps. Ritchie Torres (N.Y.) and Daniel Goldman (N.Y.) filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee earlier this month, calling on the panel to investigate Santos for failing to file timely, accurate and complete financial disclosure reports. The congressman has come under intense scrutiny over his finances amid questions that he may have violated campaign finance laws.
It is unclear, however, if the Ethics Committee is looking into the complaint. McCarthy on Monday appointed Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) to serve as chairman of the panel, but he has not yet named other members to the group. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) nominated five Democrats to the committee earlier this month.
The Ethics Committee is known for saying little publicly about its investigations. Santos is also under investigation by prosecutors in New York, and he is the focus of a case in Brazil.
Santos, who represents part of Long Island, has come under intense scrutiny amid revelations that he fabricated parts of his biography and questions about his finances. The New York Republican has admitted to embellishing his résumé but is vowing to remain in Congress, arguing that his constituents sent him to Washington to serve.
A number of Republican lawmakers have called on Santos to resign. McCarthy, however, stopped short of asking the first-term congressman to step down, instead deferring to the Ethics panel.
McCarthy deferred to the voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday when asked if he is only standing by Santos because losing him in Congress would cost Republicans a seat.
“No,” McCarthy responded to the question. “You know why I’m standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him.”
“I do not have the power simply because if I disagreed with somebody or what they have said that I remove them from elected office. Now I will hold him to the same standard I hold anyone else elected to Congress,” he added.
The House Republican Steering Committee last week recommended that Santos serve on the House Small Business Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, giving the congressman a semblance of normalcy amid the growing scrutiny.