Washington — Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos of New York will recuse himself from serving on House committees, he told his GOP colleagues in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, amid ongoing scrutiny about his background and questions about his future in Congress.
Santos was assigned to the House Small Business Committee and Science, Space and Technology Committee earlier this month by House Republican leaders. In a statement, the New York Republican said “ongoing attention” surrounding investigations into his personal and campaign finances prompted his request to be temporarily recused from the panels.
“This was a decision that I take very seriously. The business of the 118th Congress must continue without media fanfare,” Santos said. “It is important that I primarily focus on serving the constituents of New York’s Third Congressional District and providing federal level representation without distraction.”
His decision to forgo his seats on the two panels comes a day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Capitol Hill, during which Santos asked the speaker if he could recuse himself from committees, according to McCarthy.
“I think it was the appropriate decision that until he could clear everything up, he’s off committees right now,” McCarthy told reporters after the House GOP gathering.
The speaker said that if the now-vacant seats on the Small Business and Science Committees are filled, it will be on a temporary basis, and Santos would be able to reclaim the spots if and when he answers all questions and is “cleared.”
“The voters have elected him and he’ll have a voice here in Congress, and until he answers all those questions, then at that time, he’ll be able to be seated on committees,” McCarthy said.
In the meeting of the House Republican conference, Santos apologized to his colleagues for being a distraction, two sources in the room told CBS News. GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the chair of the Republican conference and a supporter of Santos during his congressional campaign, told reporters following the meeting that he “voluntarily removed himself” from House committees.
Texas Rep. Roger Williams, the chair of the Small Business Committee, indicated that Santos’ recusal could be temporary, and he would be able to return to the panel eventually.
“If that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he wants to do, if he feels like it’s a sideshow from what we are trying to do,” Williams told reporters of Santos’ decision to give up his assignments. “I think that he probably made the right decision and when he comes back, we’ll have a spot. “
The Republican lawmaker, who represents New York’s 3rd Congressional District and has admitted to fabricating key parts of his biography, is under scrutiny by state and federal prosecutors. He’s also the target of complaints to the Federal Election Commission over his campaign spending and the House Ethics Committee regarding the filing of his financial disclosure reports.
Santos is facing calls to resign, including from fellow Republicans in the New York congressional delegation, but has rebuffed calls to step down. McCarthy has also declined to take any action against Santos, instead saying his future in Congress will be determined by the voters of his district.
Most of Santos’s constituents believe he should resign his congressional seat, according to a new Newsday/Siena College poll. Of the 653 registered voters in Santos’s district who were polled, 78% said he should step aside, including 71% of Republicans. An overwhelming majority of his constituents, 83%, view him unfavorably, including 78% of GOP voters. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The speaker was asked about the decision to place Santos on two House panel in an interview with “Face the Nation” on Sunday, and said Santos, along with all other lawmakers elected to the House, “have a right to serve,” including on a committee.
McCarthy, though, has blocked two House Democrats, Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, from sitting on the House Intelligence Committee, which he has the power to do unilaterally. He has also pledged to hold a vote to keep Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, though at least three GOP lawmakers oppose the move.
Amid the questions about background and campaign finances, a pair of New York Democrats called on McCarthy to block Santos from having access to classified information, saying they have “serious concerns” about the GOP lawmaker.
“The numerous concerning allegations about his behavior over decades put his character into question, and suggest he cannot be trusted with confidential and classified information that could threaten the United States’ national security,” Reps. Gregory Meeks and Joe Morelle wrote in a letter.
Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this report.
Rebecca Kaplan covers Congress for CBS News.
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