WASHINGTON (AP) — Beleaguered Republican Rep. George Santos arrives on the House floor most days to deliver short speeches — celebrating small businesses owned by women, a dedicated high school in his district, or raising concerns about several countries in crisis.
At other times, you can see him running through the corridors of the US Capitol, as legislators do, from one meeting to the next. He once handed out donuts to the press who evicted his office.
Far from being chastised by the widespread criticism, ridicule and rejection Santos has received after admitting to fabricating many aspects of his life story, the newly elected congressman is going lightheartedly on in Congress. He refuses calls for his resignation as he rewrites the story in real time.
For Santos, it’s an unusual up-is-down approach that would have been almost unthinkable in an earlier generation, but one that indicates the new norms are in place amid the deepening of a post-truth era in Congress.
“I was chosen by the people to come here to represent them, and I do that every day,” Santos told The Associated Press in a brief interview on 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 by the idea of a post-truth era, Santos said, “I think the truth still matters a lot.”
Perhaps not since Donald Trump launched his presidency with exaggerated claims about crowd size at his inauguration has an elected official arrived in Washington so brazenly and defiantly as he tried to convince the public of a reality different from the one before their eyes .
Santos comes of age politically at a time of civilian life unanchoring when a duly sworn member of the United States Congress is able to persevere, as usual, despite admittedly lying to voters about his resume, experience and personal life while running for elected office.
As Santos faces a series of investigations — by the House Ethics Committee and a New York prosecutor — as well as questions from previous indictments in Brazil, where he lived for a while, he seems unfazed by the challenges.
Just a few days ago, Santos filed paperwork potentially seeking re-election.
“It used to be that if a politician lied and they got caught, they felt ashamed — or there was some kind of responsibility,” says Lee McIntyre, the author of “Post-Truth” and a research fellow at Boston University.
“What I see in the post-truth era is not just people lying or lying more, it’s them lying for a political purpose,” he said. “The really scary part is getting away with it.”
It’s not just about “truthfulness,” as comedian Stephen Colbert once called untruths in public life, but broader questions about the expectation that political leadership will tell the truth.
Santos has admitted that he portrayed himself as someone he was not — not a college graduate, not a Wall Street pundit, not from a Jewish family of Holocaust survivors, not the son who lost his mother in the attack at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
More questions have since poured in, including the origins of a $700,000 loan he made to his Congressional campaign and his own reported wealth.
Fellow Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito of New York, a freshman who won elections last fall in the neighboring Long Island district, said, “I don’t think it’s the state of politics. I think it is the state of an individual – and the state he is in is one of delusion.”
D’Esposito has introduced a few bills that prevent elected officials from benefiting from wrongdoing and said he is working with others to make sure Santos doesn’t become “the face of our party.” We’ve made it very clear. He is not our brand. He’s not part of us.”
While Santos removed himself from his commission assignments while the investigation was underway, he has resisted pressure from Republicans to resign and from Democrats to be removed from office.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who won a narrow Republican majority with only a few seats left, has said voters elected Santos and “he has a right to serve.” If misconduct is found, Santos could be removed from office, he said.
“He should have resigned a long time ago,” said Representative Robert Garcia of California, the Democratic president of the freshman class who supported the resolution to oust Santos.
“It’s not just the Democrats and his Republican colleagues in New York who are saying this,” Garcia said in an interview. “Nobody Wants Him in DC”
But Santos seems emboldened now that his profile has risen, even being parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” He has introduced his own bills in Congress — including one to mandate cognitive testing for presidents — and is trying to move forward.
“I admitted it and I’ve been honest about it,” 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 infuriated his colleagues by placing himself in the center aisle — the place to see and be seen by the high-profile guests. He was berated by fellow Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who said it was inappropriate for Santos to “parade in front of the president” and others.
“Senator Romney just repeated something I’ve heard all my life, right, coming from a minority group, coming from a poor family: go to the back room and shut up. Nobody wants to hear about you,” Santos recalled. “Well, I’m not going to.”
Often turning the tables, Santos engages in the whataboutism that has become commonplace in modern politics – the verbal somersault of equating one’s actions with others, even when they aren’t quite similar situations.
‘You know,’ said Santos, ‘have you ever not lied? Think carefully.”
It’s what McIntyre calls a classic “disinformation tactic,” designed not to bring clarity but to evade accountability and confusion.
Asked if he was here to stay, Santos replied, “I’m here to do the job I’ve been chosen to do for the next two years.”
But will he run for re-election? “Maybe.”