Former House member George Santos is out of Congress and making short videos for cash on a phone app. Democrats have nominated his predecessor, Tom Suozzi, to, they hope, flip his district back to their party.
And Rep. Elise Stefanik (R- N.Y.), the fourth-ranking leader among House Republicans whose support was pivotal in getting Santos elected?
No hard feelings, according to some of her fellow New York Republicans who led the fight to get rid of Santos and buoy their own reelection prospects.
“George Santos is responsible for George Santos’ actions,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told HuffPost.
Stefanik was an avid supporter whose endorsement served to encourage donors to give to the relatively little-known Santos, according to some of the givers. (Santos would later be charged with using donors’ credit cards to fund a lifestyle that included Botox injections and subscriptions to OnlyFans, a creator website known for explicit content. Santos has denied the charges.)
Republican New York Rep. Elise Stefanik (third from left) speaks at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 2.
But after his election, outlets like The New York Times began questioning Santos’ background, which Santos himself said he had embellished, and some Republicans began quietly distancing themselves from him.
“I didn’t know about his resume or not, but I always had a few questions about it,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the now-former House speaker, told reporters in early 2023.
In February, as more and more of Santos’ deceptions came to light, Stefanik held fast when pressed about her role in his election.
“I stand with my colleagues in supporting those Republican candidates who helped deliver this [House] majority,” she told reporters at a New York press conference. “Elections matter, and the voters of that district are going to decide.”
The voters of Santos’ Long Island congressional district now face the choice of whether to elect a different Republican after he lost his House expulsion vote on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis 311 to 114, with two voting present.
The suburban district, which includes parts of Queens, has a Democratic tilt, having supported President Joe Biden by 8 percentage points in 2020. But Republicans are optimistic about Long Island in general, having posted some surprise wins in local contests there in November.
In the scheduled Feb. 13 special election to replace Santos, Suozzi is set to face either private security entrepreneur Michael Sapraicone or Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip, who is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces.
The most vocal supporters of Santos’ expulsion on the GOP side were several other New York Republicans, who worried that his continued presence in the House, and the rising tide of public opinion against him after he was charged with federal crimes, might endanger their reelection chances in their own swing districts.
Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) was one of the main advocates for kicking Santos out. He, too, declined to blame Stefanik for Santos being in the House of Representatives in the first place.
“The only person that bears responsibility for George Santos is George Santos,” he told HuffPost.
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) also had little patience for assigning blame over Santos becoming the first House member since 2002 to be expelled and the first ever to be ejected without being accused of disloyalty to the United States or being convicted of a crime in court.
“I think you guys have exhausted your coverage of George Santos. I mean, what else is there to talk about?” Lawler said.
“George Santos is responsible. The guy is a liar and a con man,” he said.
For Stefanik, who rapidly ascended the ranks of leadership in the House conference by shedding her policy-heavy background to become a solid supporter of former President Donald Trump, backing Santos was an uncommon political misstep.
Now-former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) leaves the Capitol after being expelled from the House of Representatives on Dec. 1.
She replaced anti-Trumper and former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in the role of conference chair and refrained from running for the whip’s post, the next rung up, once Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) announced that he was seeking the position. Emmer briefly was the House GOP’s pick to become the next speaker after McCarthy was ousted from the spot in October, but he failed to gain enough support to make it to a floor vote.
Stefanik declined to comment Thursday, referring a reporter to her staff and saying, “Someone will follow up with you.” Requests for comment to her office were not returned.
Stefanik’s role in Santos’ brief but troubled time in Congress is unlikely to fly completely under the radar going forward, though. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the leader of House Democrats, hinted at this during a press conference held the day before Santos’ expulsion vote, without directly naming her.
“House Republicans knew a lot about George Santos before he was elected and, we have reason to believe, either intentionally kept that information out of the public domain or willfully turned a blind eye,” Jeffries said. “Why? Because House Republicans needed George Santos’ vote.”
“Elise Stefanik is a [‘Make America Great Again’] extremist who, in lockstep with the rest of the Republican Party, repeatedly protected George Santos at the expense of Nassau and Queens residents,” said Ellie Dougherty, a spokesperson with the House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“While Republicans will be held accountable for their shameless record of propping up corruption, Democrats will remain laser-focused on sending Tom Suozzi back to Congress to lower costs, make our communities safer and restore trust,” she said.