He called us the “Herald Firing Squad.” That was fair, I guess. When Republican congressional candidate George Santos first visited our Garden City office last fall, there were nine reporters — including me — sitting around the conference table waiting for him.
This time, however, it was just three of us. A senior editor, Laura Lane. A senior reporter, Michael Malaszczyk. And me. We didn’t meet on Long Island. Instead, we traveled to Queens where now-U.S. Rep. George Santos works when he’s not in Washington. A few days later, he would face federal charges — charges he reportedly did not know about when he sat with us.
Unlike his office on Capitol Hill, there were no reporters waiting outside his door trying to ask questions. Instead, it was just the three of us, walking into a cramped space, past a sign on the door warning against using audio devices and video equipment. Staff members had to move around a bit just to seat us at a conference table outside the congressman’s office.
Santos arrived just moments after we did, wearing a fresh suit and a light blue tie, and carrying a small food pack from Starbucks that he called his breakfast. A lot had happened to him between that October afternoon he visited our offices, and this chilly Friday morning.
Reporters spent months asking Santos questions about his past. Where he worked. Where he went to school. What happened with his mother. Whether he was ever arrested. Whether he was truly “Jew-ish,” as he had previously claimed.
Law enforcement officials at all levels announced investigations into different aspects of Santos’s life. Even the Republican-controlled House Ethics Committee wanted a chance to weigh in.
But sitting there, across from George Santos, none of that seemed real. The congressman outlined what seemed very much like a busy schedule dealing with constituents, introducing bills, and even seeking a place in history that didn’t make him an easy target for late-night talk show hosts and banter for news outlets.
There’s his bill intended to cap state and local tax exemptions beginning at $50,000 instead of $10,000. Or the bill intended to waive the early withdrawal penalty for certain types of distributions from a retirement plan.
And then there’s a bill Santos said I’d personally appreciate, because it would prohibit the United States from providing any sort of financial aid to countries that target members of the LGBTQ community.
“Some of them kill you just for liking someone of the same sex,” Santos said. “That’s not an American value, right? That’s not something we share.”
In fact, in his first four months on Capitol Hill, Santos has introduced nearly a dozen bills. An impressive slate that almost makes everything else happening around the congressman feel like background noise you can tune out. That is until you realize that he doesn’t have a single co-sponsor for any of these bills. Not one.
“Usually people work one bill at a time, and then go work the floor,” Santos said. “I’m too impatient to do it that way. So I just put the first set of ideas in the first quarter down, and now this quarter, I’m going to be doing less of bill introduction and more of working these bills.”
The congressman’s Republican colleagues have indeed stepped up to offer initial support for these bills, Santos said. But he wouldn’t share who any of them were, because he feared “the firing squad” would “do follow-ups” — like reporters ought to do — putting those House members “under pressure.”
“And then they might buckle,” Santos said, “and then you’ll ruin my bill.”
It’s surprising, with the walls closing so tight around Santos, that he hasn’t buckled. He’s already looking toward re-election — at least before federal criminal charges, although that may not deter him now. And there are many who truly don’t believe he’ll survive his first term.
But then again, few expected he would still be donning his congressional lapel pin in May — six months after the original New York Times exposé that punched significant holes in Santos’ claims in the first place.
It’s hard not to be impressed with that perseverance. It’s a trait that is far less common in Congress than it should be, and something Santos apparently has in abundance.
Yet, the rocky road he has had to traverse was one of his own making. Which is unfortunate, because if he hadn’t built such a house of cards around himself, who knows what kind of good George Santos might have done in Washington?
Michael Hinman is executive editor of the Herald Community Newspapers. Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org.