House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dressed down a reporter in the US Capitol during a press conference on Tuesday after the reporter questioned him over why he wasn’t doing more to punish George Santos for repeatedly lying to voters and the media.
CNN’s Manu Raju began the exchange on Tuesday by questioning Mr McCarthy over whether his resistance to calling for Mr Santos to resign, a step several of his GOP colleagues have taken, was due to his desire to protect a single-digit Republican majority in the chamber.
Mr McCarthy denied this, telling Mr Raju that were he to hold Congress and the US government to that standard, many lawmakers including President Joe Biden would be unfit to serve.
A second reporter then jumped in, asking why Mr McCarthy was not calling for Mr Santos to be stripped of committee memberships. A back-and-forth ensued, during which the Speaker was apparently accused by the reporter of not answering her question, which compared the situation to that of former Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff. Mr Schiff was removed from the panel by Mr McCarthy upon the GOP’s assumption of the House majority, with Republicans accusing him of lying and undermining national security.
"You asked me a question. When I answer it, it's the answer to your question. You don't get to determine whether I answered your question or not, okay? In all respect," said Mr McCarthy.
Growing visibly angry, he continued: “You just raised a question and I’m going to be very clear with you. The Intel Committee is different. You know why? Because what happens in the Intel Committee, you don’t know”. As he finished that remark, he pointed at the reporter for emphasis.
“What happens in the Intel Committee, [with the] secrets that are going on in the world...other members of Congress don’t know,” Mr McCarthy said.
The Santos controversy has added another layer to the already bitter partisan fight developing over committee memberships in the House. While many Republicans are eager to punish Mr Schiff and two other Democrats over a variety of longstanding gripes, some like Reps Victoria Spartz and Nancy Mace have shown some resistance to the idea of turning committee memberships into a partisan battleground.
Mr McCarthy’s role in all of this remains a top issue of speculation, given that he is attempting to manage an unruly caucus with a razor-thin majority where just a few members could make his life miserable.
Mr Santos has vowed to remain in office amid the calls from both Democrats and Republicans for his resignation or removal from the chamber. He has been openly denounced by major organisations like the Republican Jewish Coalition and is likely to see little to no support from state Republicans should he choose to run for reelection in 2024.