When he ran for congress last year, there was rarely a question George Santos left unanswered.
He rode a red Long Island wave straight to Capitol Hill, helping to lock a slim Republican majority in the U.S. House. But before he even had a chance to raise his right hand and take the oath of office, The New York Times came along.
Its December expose debunking many of the claims Santos made about his credentials and even his life gave the incoming congressman the kind of infamy he never expected. Republican colleagues turned their backs on him — many of them demanding he resign.
And suddenly, Santos wasn’t answering those questions anymore, except an occasional interview with the likes of Tulsi Gabbard and Piers Morgan. Reporters would camp outside his Capitol Hill office, and he would essentially ignore question after question about what seemed like a daily revelation of a potentially fabricated claim each day.
It’s not that Santos didn’t want to answer questions anymore, he told the Herald last week, just days before being charged in a 13-count federal indictment. It’s just that reporters weren’t asking the right questions.
“I feel like people are forgetting the fact that I’m a lawmaker,” Santos said. “And people forget to ask me about policy.”
Instead of trying to rebrand his image by attending ribbon-cuttings or hosting news conferences, Santos instead wants to be known as a workhorse in Congress. In his short time on the Hill, for instance, the lawmaker already has introduced nearly a dozen bills.
Among those is what he’s calling the SALT Relief Act of 2023, intended to raise the deduction cap on state and local taxes from $10,000 to $50,000.
“I think we need to be realistic with what’s fair,” Santos said. The SALT cap “was bad before, and it created massive tax loopholes for people who just like to avoid paying taxes. I think $50,000 takes care of the entire middle class on Long Island.”
Although SALT reform is part of the platforms of Santos’s Long Island colleagues — Anthony D’Esposito, Nick LaLota and Andrew Garbarino — none have signed on. In fact, no one has signed on to co-sponsor, with D’Esposito, LaLota and Garbarino instead introducing their own package.
None of the bills Santos has introduced have co-sponsors, but he says that’s by design.
“Usually people work one bill at a time, and then go work the floor,” Santos said. “I’m too impatient to do it that way. So, I just put the first set of ideas in the first quarter down, and now this quarter, I’m going to be doing less of bill introduction and more of working these bills.”
Another bill Santos is proud of is the Equality and Fiscal Accountability Act of 2023, which moves to stop sending federal aid to countries that criminalize homosexuality.
“If you want to have a share as a developing nation and receiving anything from us, you need to knock that crap out. Period,” the openly gay congressman said. “I think it’s a simple ask since it’s our money.”
Supporting such a measure could be a huge step forward for the GOP, Santos said, adding some Republicans have expressed interest. Yet, he stopped short of sharing any of those names, fearing any such publicity over such a controversial bill might cause them to shy away.
Yet, even some Democrats might not support such a bill since a lot of those funds go to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“I know folks will turn around and try to spin it,” Santos said. “’Oh, so you want to defund AIDS research.’ The point is, if you want American dollars, you need to go through a report card.”
Santos has also traveled throughout his district, talking extensively about a recent trip to Farmingdale to address water quality through mobile office hours.
“I literally sat with every single person who wanted to sit with me,” Santos said. Even some of the protesters, he added, who followed him to the gathering. “I sat with rabbis, I sat with commissioners. I sat with anybody who wanted to.”
Despite all that, however, Santos couldn’t avoid the elephant in the room.
“I didn’t graduate college,” Santos said. “It was a very large insecurity of mine. Somewhere deep down inside of me — I have no clue how to tell you why — I thought it was a brilliant idea to say I did. It was stupid.”
Santos claimed on the campaign trail he received his bachelor’s degree from Baruch College in Manhattan. His resume also reportedly claimed he had a master’s degree from New York University.
While he admits to lying about Baruch, Santos has claimed someone other than him put the NYU credentials on his resume.
But Santos stands by some of his other claims, such as Jewish ancestry. He says he’s hired a genealogist to prove his grandparents did indeed flee from Eastern Europe to Brazil. He also has taken four DNA tests in an effort to prove Jewish ancestry. Yet, Santos didn’t reveal the results of those tests — only that he would release a package on this soon to prove that he didn’t lie.
“A lot of folks are like, ‘Oh, but it was offensive,’” Santos said. “’You said you were Jewish.’ I’ve been saying that to rooms of hundreds of Jewish folks at a time for years. I joke, ‘I can’t believe you conceded the podium to a Catholic. But after all, I am Jew-ish.’ It was funny.”
The only information publicly available at this point is that both of Santos’s maternal grandparents were born in Brazil, with no evidence of recent Jewish or Ukrainian heritage.
As far as his work history goes, sure Santos didn’t work at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as he claimed. Instead, he worked with a company that worked with them.
“My jobs are not fake,” Santos said. “The only difference here is instead of saying, ‘I work for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup through contracts through Link Bridge Investors,’ I tried to make it look nicer — since I did do the work for both — by just saying I worked for Goldman. I worked for Citigroup.”
Neither Goldman Sachs nor Citigroup have commented on the congressman’s past resume claims. However, reporters have confirmed Santos did work for a company called Link Bridge Investors, although it’s unclear what his role was with the company.
Because of all this, Santos knows challengers are lining up on both sides of the aisle to either face him in 2024, or battle each other for his empty seat if he were to vacate it early. And that was before this week’s indictment. Before those charges were filed, Santos told the Herald he’s not focused on re-election right now, although he does plan to run.
“You can’t govern on the guises of ‘I need to worry about re-election’ like most politicians, because they’re disingenuous,” Santos said.
He almost certainly won’t have the help of the Nassau County Republican Party. But as far as Santos is concerned, he never had it before, either. In fact, there are a lot of issues Santos says he just objects to with the county party apparatus, including its support of the Las Vegas Sands casino redevelopment project planned for the Nassau Coliseum.
“Why are we bringing the zoo to the suburb?” Santos asked. “These are not the priorities of the residents of the district and of the county. This is all special interest.”
Republicans will certainly challenge him for the party’s nomination, and there’s a real chance Santos could lose. And if that happens? He’d “concede and go away,” adding that running as a third-party would be a waste of time, energy and effort.
“I’m not scared of facing the music and facing my constituents and asking them ‘Hey, do you like the job I’ve done?’” Santos said. “If no, then hire the next guy.”
Additional reporting by Laura Lane and Michael Hinman