Republican George Santos was elected last month to represent the state of New York in the United States House of Representatives, pitching voters an uplifting personal story that read to many like the embodiment of the American dream.
But before being sworn in to his first term, Santos came under scrutiny for allegedly fabricating key elements of his life history. Those details include his education and employment background, his family’s Jewish heritage and a claim that he worked with four victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which killed 49 members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida.
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“My sins here are embellishing my resume,” he told the New York Post in an interview on Monday. “We do stupid things in life.”
Santos, who became the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent, has admitted to falsifying some details but rejected calls to step down and insisted that he will be sworn in on January 3.
“I campaigned talking about the people’s concerns,” he told the Post. “Not my resume.”
The 34-year-old publicly said he obtained a degree from Baruch College in New York, but he later conceded that he “didn’t graduate from any institute of higher learning”.
He also never worked for the financial giants Goldman Sachs and Citibank as he had previously claimed.
Several news outlets have also cast doubt on statements Santos has made about his personal life and family history. Santos has described himself as a “proud American Jew”, but the US Jewish publication The Forward reported there is little evidence to support his claim that his grandparents fled anti-Jewish persecution in Ukraine and Belgium during World War II.
According to The Forward, Santos’s maternal grandparents were born in Brazil before the rise of the Nazi movement, and his mother regularly shared content on social media with Catholic themes and images of Jesus before her death in 2016.
Defending himself in the interview on Monday, Santos stated, “I never claimed to be Jewish. … I said I was ‘Jew-ish’.”
In another twist, The New York Times newspaper found no evidence to support Santos’s claim that a company he had worked for lost four employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting. Santos has since changed some details of the story: He told the WABC radio station that the company was in the process of hiring the four people but that they were not yet employees.
Reporting by the Times also cast doubt on claims Santos had made about his finances, in which he had described himself as a landlord who made large sums of money from 13 properties he and his family owned.
— RJC (@RJC) December 27, 2022
It remains to be seen whether the Republican Party, which is set to assume control of the US House of Representatives next week, will discipline Santos for his false claims.
Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu called for Santos to resign in a Twitter post on Monday. If he refuses to do so, Lieu suggested that the Republican caucus should “vote to expel him from Congress”.
The Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement on Tuesday that Santos had “deceived us and misrepresented his heritage” and that he would not be welcome at any of the coalition’s events.
In a statement released on December 19 in response to reporting by the Times, Santos said: “As Winston Churchill famously stated, ‘You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something’.”
That quote is falsely attributed to Churchill.