Senate Republicans, who are battling to win back the majority in 2024, worry the controversy surrounding Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) has become a liability for their party as a whole, and several are expressing quiet support for Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) call for Santos to step down.
GOP senators are reluctant to tell their House Republican counterparts what to do, but they privately hope Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) won’t let the situation fester for much longer.
Senate Republicans feel like they have a good chance of winning back control of the upper chamber and don’t want Santos — or other high-profile conservative House members who made a splash at President Biden’s State of the Union address — to become emblematic of their party, which could turn off independent and swing voters.
Romney’s frustration with Santos was on display to the nation on Tuesday when he confronted the freshman lawmaker as he walked down the House center aisle, bluntly telling his fellow Republican: “You don’t belong here.”
After the address, Romney told reporters Santos’s presence at Biden’s speech was an “embarrassment” and said he was disappointed that McCarthy hasn’t called on him to resign.
Other Senate Republicans aren’t willing to be so bold and outspoken, but they generally agree that Santos is a distraction and should have the good sense to step down from Congress, which would spare them the spectacle of having to watch McCarthy dodge questions about the freshman’s future.
“I am surprised that the man has not resigned, and I think it just speaks to his own lack of self-awareness and what he has done to [the] institution,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said of Santos.
“It’s not like we’ve got a really strong public approval rating. It doesn’t do much to elevate us in the eyes of the American public when it would appear we are kind of protecting somebody just because he’s a member of our caucus,” she said.
“And so I’m surprised he hasn’t resigned and there hasn’t been a greater push or call for him to step out by his constituents,” she added.
Murkowski and other GOP senators are marveling over how Santos even won in a competitive House district that was previously represented by a Democrat.
“How does an individual who would fabricate aspects of his life story in order to gain election successfully gain election?” Murkowski asked.
She said the fact that few people bothered to examine Santos’s background closely before the election was a troubling statement about how partisanship has come to dominate today’s politics.
“It is a telling statement about us too, that all we want is your label. All we want is your label. All we want is your label. We don’t care about your integrity, your character or whether or not you are a liar. We just want to know whether you are an R vote or a D vote,” she said.
But while Senate Republicans worry that drama in the House may tarnish the broader party, they are loath to tell House Republicans how to run their own business.
“I wouldn’t have done it,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) when asked about Romney’s confrontation with Santos on the House floor. “We’re always visitors in their chamber” during State of the Union addresses.
“I don’t disagree with Mitt’s sentiment, I’ll put it that way,” Cramer said.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) described Romney as “a principled guy who generally says what he thinks.”
“He made a fairly strong statement there, and I think that statement stands on its own,” he said.
A Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss Santos said “what happens in the House certainly has a consequence to the Senate, senators or Republicans, generally.”
But the lawmaker said senators are reluctant to publicly tell McCarthy what to do about what they acknowledge is becoming a public relations problem.
“My policy is not to meddle in what goes on in the House. They can decide. And every time it’s an elected official or colleague, it becomes more difficult to say someone should resign because the voters made a choice,” the lawmaker explained. “In this case, they apparently made a choice based on a whole lot of wrong information.”
The senator said it’s more important that fellow House Republicans — instead of Romney — call for Santos’s resignation.
“I think it needs to be said by his colleagues in the House,” the source said. “There’s nothing wrong with a frank discussion about how you’re harming the brand or your behavior is not acceptable to the norms of Congress.”
Other Senate Republicans are staying mum on the topic of Santos.
Asked if she had any thoughts on the New York lawmaker in light of Romney’s public rebuke, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) declined to comment.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shrugged when asked about Romney’s harsh rebuke of Santos.
“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” he said.
At the same time, some Democrats are seizing on Republicans’ reluctance to condemn Santos to question the broader party’s integrity.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Romney did the right thing.
“I’m glad somebody in the Republican Party has the integrity to say to Santos who has lied every step of the way … you should not be serving,” she said. Corporate America donated $36M to election objectors in 2022 election: analysis The Memo: Trump and Biden find common enemy in DeSantis
“It says to me that the rest of them are a pretty sad bunch of people if they’re not going to step up for the truth or integrity,” she said of Republicans who don’t want to press for Santos’s resignation.
“It’s disappointing but not unexpected,” she added, noting that many Republicans have denied the result of the 2020 presidential election.
“To the extent that there are all these people in that party does not reflect well on them at all,” she added.