WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. George Santos positioned himself in a prime spot for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address — an inconveniently important post for the struggling new lawmaker facing multiple investigations and acknowledged he had embellished and even lied about his life story.
Santos’ presence in the center lane to see and be seen with arrivals was met with a stern rebuke from fellow Republican, Senator Mitt Romney.
“You don’t belong here,” Santos chided the Utah Republican as he entered the House chamber and saw the New York Republican in the hallway.
Words were exchanged, it was reported, though Romney later said he didn’t hear the whole thing.
“He shouldn’t be in Congress, and they’re going to go through the process and hopefully get him out,” Romney told reporters later, his office confirmed. “But he shouldn’t be there, and if he had any shame he wouldn’t be there.”
The exchange was an unusual whipping by the more reserved Romney, the Republican Party presidential candidate in 2012, but it shows the unease Santos is carrying among traditional conservatives critical of the rightward drift of more hardline elements in the GOP.
Santos countered with a tweet: “Hey @MittRomney, just to remind you that you will NEVER be PRESIDENT!”
Santos’ arrival has been a problem for Republicans since he won a congressional seat in New York, which helped deliver the party a slim majority once his personal history began to unravel.
Santos admitted to fabricating, and sometimes lying about, parts of his education, work experience, and even his family’s religion and history.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met privately with the congressman last week amid a whirlwind of potential investigations on and off Capitol Hill. Santos announced that he would step down from his committee posts ahead of an investigation scheduled by the House Ethics Committee.
McCarthy said Tuesday that the situation with Santos would work its way through the House Ethics Committee. Fellow Republicans in New York called for Santos to resign from Congress. Santos faces other investigations than Congress.
Other Republicans heard the exchange, and one Republican lawmaker who was briefed on it said there was widespread displeasure that Santos had placed himself in such an important position. The lawmaker requested anonymity to discuss what others have said on the matter.
The center aisle basically gave Santos a chance to seize the limelight by greeting the president and other prominent officials as they entered the House chamber and made their way down the aisle.
As senators filed into the House, that’s when Romney spotted Santos and delivered his message.
“I didn’t expect he would be there, trying to shake hands with every senator and the president of the United States,” Romney told reporters afterward.
Romney said given the investigation, Santos “should sit in the back row and shut up, instead of parading in front of the president and people who walk into the room.”
But Santos, as often happens, had his moment, becoming the face of the GOP for a while.