It was likely to be his second-to-last day serving in Congress, and Representative George Santos of New York seemed determined to go out the way he came in: as a scandal-plagued curiosity attracting maximum attention.
The serial fabulist, indicted on 23 federal felony counts, arrived on the Capitol grounds at 8 a.m. Thursday for a news conference where he railed against the precedent that was being set with the vote to expel him scheduled for the following day.
Dressed in navy Ferragamo loafers he insisted were not purchased with cash he stands accused of stealing from his campaign (“Go on the website,” he said. “They’re six years old!”), Mr. Santos was surrounded by a semicircle of reporters he had lured out of bed with a promise of “big news.”
He did not resign. Instead, he said he was introducing a motion to expel another member, Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, who earlier this year pleaded guilty to pulling a fire alarm in a House office building as Democrats sought to delay a congressional vote.
Yes, it was gimmicky, but that was his point. Mr. Santos claimed his impending expulsion vote was “all theater. It’s theater for the cameras. It’s theater for the microphones.”
If Congress was theater, Mr. Santos was just getting started on his final run as a lead in the play, which he described as his “year from hell.”
Being at the center of scandals of his own making may have been traumatic, but it was also exhilarating at times. Dodging cameras and walking with an attendant horde of reporters at least gave the committee-less congressman something to do over the past 10 months on Capitol Hill.
“If Manu’s not chasing you, you’re really not a member of Congress,” Mr. Santos joked, referring to the seemingly omnipresent CNN congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. The friendly small talk continued as Mr. Santos settled into his second performance of the day: an hourlong question-and-answer session with a group of hand-selected journalists he convened to talk about his current plight and wishful aspirations.
Mr. Santos bemoaned the bad optics of a garbage truck having driven by, an unsightly backdrop to his morning news conference. But overall, he said, “I am oddly calm. I am done losing sleep, I am done stressing. I have just made peace with God in the best way possible and said that whatever comes my way, I will accept it. I am 35, I have a lot of life left to live.”
Mr. Santos said he had finally accepted that he would most likely be leaving Congress Friday and never returning. “I think they have it,” he said of the two-thirds majority needed to expel him. “I mean, it’s the third time, get it together.”
Still, with journalists from national news outlets seated around him, some peppering him with flattering questions about whether he might run for governor of New York, Mr. Santos was upbeat. He said job offers were already pouring in, and he planned to write a book. “I realized I’m highly employable,” he said. “They’re offering me jobs left and right, from media to entertainment to public advocacy.”
Mr. Santos scoffed at the idea of using the lifetime floor privileges that former members of Congress — even those expelled — are granted. No one should expect to see him back at the Capitol anytime soon, he said, adding, “I have a sour relationship with a lot of people in the body.” On Saturday morning, he planned to sleep in and then pack up his Washington apartment for good.
Mr. Santos, who is accused of using campaign funds for cosmetic procedures and OnlyFans, a website known for explicit content, claimed he would fight to prove his innocence. But he wasn’t shy about the work he has had done. “I use cosmetic Botox and filler, that’s not a secret, did anybody ever doubt that?” he said, his lips full and slightly puckered, his forehead essentially wrinkle free.
On the floor of the House later in the afternoon, ahead of the debate about his expulsion, Mr. Santos sat in the middle of a mostly empty chamber, joined by a motley crew of allies who planned to speak up on his behalf: Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, the House’s most famous problem child; Representative Clay Higgins of Louisiana, a far-right conspiracy theorist; and Representative Troy Nehls of Texas, a Donald J. Trump loyalist who pushed to nominate the former president to be speaker of the House last month.
“Whatever Mr. Santos did with Botox or OnlyFans is less concerning to me than the indictment against Senator Menendez, who is holding gold bars inscribed with Arabic on them from Egypt while he’s still getting classified briefings today,” Mr. Gaetz said, referring to Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who was indicted earlier this year on bribery charges.
“I rise not to defend George Santos, whoever he is,” Mr. Gaetz said. He was speaking out, instead, to make a point about precedent, he said.
At times, the debate devolved into what the House of Representatives has become most famous for: Republican-on-Republican violence.
“You, sir, are a crook,” Representative Max Miller, Republican of Ohio, said, addressing Mr. Santos directly.
Mr. Santos shot back: “My colleague wants to come up here and call me a crook. The same colleague who is accused of being a woman beater.” (Mr. Miller has been accused by Stephanie Grisham, the former White House press secretary in the Trump administration, of physical abuse. He sued her for defamation.)
For Democrats, Mr. Santos was, as he has always been, an easy target that also distracted from their larger project of tagging the entire House Republican conference as a band of MAGA extremists. At his weekly news conference Thursday morning, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader, brought with him as a prop a poster-board-sized photograph of Mr. Santos and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia laughing together on the House floor.
He called Mr. Santos ”a malignant distraction” before falling into his practiced rap about how the “extreme MAGA Republican Hose majority” still had no vision and no agenda, regardless of what happened with their most loathed member.
For all his talk of being at peace and accepting his fate, Mr. Santos conceded that his future was not necessarily all book deals, television offers and Saturdays spent hitting the snooze button.
“Of course,” he said, when asked if he was worried about serving time in prison. “These are serious allegations, and I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
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