Editorial: Rep. George Santos is another embarrassment for the GOP. How much is enough?

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) sits in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building following the first ballot for Speaker of the House on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 in Washington, DC. Today members of the 118th Congress will be sworn in and the House of Representatives will hold votes on a new Speaker of the House. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Newly elected Republican George Santos of New York in the House chamber on Jan. 3, after the first ballot for the speakership. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) quickly became a global punchline when his multiple, contradictory misrepresentations of his background were revealed after he was elected in November. But there’s nothing funny about Speaker Kevin McCarthy's refusal to call on Santos to resign, as a few other Republicans have.

Santos was caught in lies about much of his biography. He didn’t graduate from — nor apparently even attended — the colleges listed on his resume, didn’t work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, and does not appear to be Jewish (as he has claimed) or descended from refugees who fled the Holocaust. (Left off the resume was a 2008 fraud charge in Brazil for allegedly using a stolen checkbook; Brazilian authorities recently said they would revive the charge now that they know Santos' whereabouts.) There are also questions about the legality of his fundraising and spending.

Despite various investigations underway, he has been recommended by the House GOP Steering Committee for membership on the Small Business and the Science, Space and Technology committees.

It’s small consolation that Santos didn’t receive the more prestigious assignments he reportedly coveted on the Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees. (The Small Business Committee does exercise oversight of the Paycheck Protection Program established in response to business hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Moreover, McCarthy has pooh-poohed complaints about Santos’ conduct. Last week the speaker said: “I try to stick by the Constitution. The voters elected him to serve. If there is a concern, and he has to go through the Ethics [Committee], we'll let him move through that.” This week the speaker acknowledged that he “always had a few questions” about Santos’ resume.

Santos is the subject of a complaint filed with the Ethics Committee by two Democratic House members, who called for an investigation of Santos “for violations of the Ethics in Government Act by failing to file timely, accurate, and complete financial disclosure reports as required by law.” He is also being investigated by local prosecutors on Long Island and, according to the New York Times, by federal prosecutors as well. Although Santos has admitted to “embellishing” his resume, he has otherwise denied any wrongdoing, saying, “I am not a criminal.”

Santos is obviously entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence, but the baroque misrepresentations he has admitted to — so-called “embellishments” — make clear that he doesn’t belong in the House. McCarthy, however, has refused to grasp that point, perhaps because a Santos resignation would shrink the Republicans’ already small House majority. Last week, McCarthy mused that “a lot of people here” had fabricated part of their resumes.

It's true that other politicians have exaggerated their credentials, including President Biden years ago, which is why it’s unlikely that Congress will approve a Santos-inspired bill to require candidates for Congress to file information about their educational background, military service and employment history. A candidate who knowingly and willfully provided false information would be punished with a $100,000 fine, one year in prison, or both. (The legislation could also pose constitutional problems. For example, the Supreme Court has said that some laws that punish lying violate the 1st Amendment.) Still, Santos’ fabrications are so extensive and audacious as to put him in a mind-boggling class by himself.

Even so, Santos’ lies seem trivial compared with some of the outlandish and offensive statements made by other House Republicans, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has been assigned to House Homeland Security and Oversight committees after losing her committee assignments in the previous Congress. It’s clear that fringe figures and fabulists are welcome in the new House Republican majority.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.