The temporary withdrawal from the committees marks Santos’ first major concession after weeks of maintaining steadfast resistance to any consequences for his fabrications.
Santos told the meeting that he would step down because “he is a distraction,” according to a Republican lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. The conversation came a day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
House Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-Tex.) said he understood the withdrawal was temporary, until Santos was cleared of ongoing investigations. The 34-year-old freshman Republican has faced heightened scrutiny, including a federal investigation into his campaign finances and local probe into his résumé fabrications, since his misrepresentations of his experience, personal life and education.
“I was surprised but it was probably the right decision,” Williams said.
“If the ethics investigation isn’t complete, I think it’s the right decision,” said Rep. Michael Lawler (RN.Y.), who also called on Santos to resign.
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Emerging from the meeting, Santos declined to comment, saying, “I think you should talk to the leadership if you want details about the committees.” Later, when asked if McCarthy asked him to step down, Santos replied that it was his decision.
“No one is telling me to do anything,” he said. “I made a decision myself that I thought best represented the interests of the voters.”
The announcement came on the same day that polling in his district showed a majority of voters believed he should resign. More than three-quarters of registered voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District say he should quit his job, a Newsday-Siena College poll found.
Santos has given no indication that he plans to voluntarily give up his position.
Republicans in his Long Island-based district and some House GOP members have called for Santos to resign. However, McCarthy, who has a razor-thin GOP majority, rejected those calls. The Republican leadership avoided reprimanding Santos, and others stopped short of calling for his resignation.
Asked if he regretted supporting Santos after the news that he had stepped down from the committees, Rep. Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.) that voters chose her.
“This process will play itself out,” the third-ranking House Republican said Tuesday. “But ultimately, the voters will make that decision.”
Democratic leaders, who have repeatedly called on Santos to resign, questioned Santos’ latest forfeiture and the Republican reaction.
“I’m just struck by the chaos, the confusion, the dysfunction of the Republican conference,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said. “They defended putting him on committees and now they’ve announced that he won’t serve on a committee. So I just don’t understand what the play of the day is.”
Santos’ move comes as McCarthy struggles to get GOP votes to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The speaker is determined to fulfill a year-old promise after Democrats ousted two Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) — from the committees for endorsing political violence against Democrats on social media.
McCarthy said he wanted Omar removed from the committee because of “repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks,” a reference to him using an antisemitic trope and comparing the actions of the United States to terrorist groupwhich he later clarified by saying, “I do not equate terrorist organizations in any way with democratic countries with good judicial systems.”
But McCarthy faced opposition from Republican Reps. Victoria Spartz (Ind.), Ken Buck (Colo.) and Nancy Mace (SC). Republicans have a slim majority that allows them to lack just four votes to pass anything. That margin is down to three while Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) is recovering at home from a traumatic fall in which he was injured.
John Wagner and Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.