Since the day he set foot in Washington, Representative George Santos of New York has been shunned by some of his fellow Republicans and protected by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has consistently defended his right to serve in Congress despite the fictional persona he created and the geyser of falsehoods he told to win election.
His wide-ranging indictment on Wednesday, in which Mr. Santos was charged with wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public funds and lying to Congress in federal disclosure forms, did nothing to change that dynamic. Some rank-and-file Republican lawmakers intensified their calls for his resignation, but Mr. McCarthy and other House G.O.P. leaders, operating with a slim and fractious majority, said Mr. Santos should be allowed to continue to serve in Congress.
“If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday before the charges were unsealed. “They have a right to vote, but they have to go to trial.” It was in line with the position Mr. McCarthy has taken since January, when the speaker made no move to penalize or marginalize Mr. Santos, even in the face of mounting allegations of misconduct and lies by him.
Mr. McCarthy allowed Mr. Santos, who is in his first term, to be placed on two congressional committees. When he temporarily stepped aside from them weeks after his appointments, Mr. McCarthy said it had been Mr. Santos’s choice — though the speaker called it the “appropriate decision” for now, “until he could clear everything up.”
Mr. McCarthy said his calculation about Mr. Santos’s future in Congress could change if he were found guilty. And the speaker told CNN late Wednesday that he would not support Mr. Santos for re-election and that he would call on him to resign if the House Ethics Committee found that he broke the law.
“He was already removed from all his committees,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and the majority leader, said during a news conference. “In America, there is a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”
Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 4 Republican, said the legal process would “play itself out.”
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress from either party has been indicted,” Ms. Stefanik said. She said Republicans were more concerned with rooting out “any fraud when it comes to unemployment pandemic assistance.”
Other Republicans were less merciful, particularly Mr. Santos’s fellow New Yorkers. Representative Anthony D’Esposito, who represents parts of Nassau County, called Mr. Santos a “serial fraudster” who should “resign from office.” Representative Mike Lawler of the Hudson Valley said Mr. Santos’s conduct had been “embarrassing and disgraceful, and he should resign.”
And Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas said Mr. Santos was a “punchline for a lot of commentary regarding the Republican Party that we don’t need.”
One Republican from upstate New York, Representative Claudia Tenney, said that while she was “horrified by his behavior,” she believed in due process, although she did not expect Mr. Santos to finish out his term. Ms. Tenney said her colleagues in districts closer to Mr. Santos’s felt more political pressure to call for his immediate resignation.
“They feel like it’s impacting them more directly downstate,” she said.
For months, Mr. Santos has tried to defiantly carry on, even announcing plans to run for re-election in 2024 and trying to pivot ideologically in the hopes of gaining a more forgiving audience with the party’s hard right. But he has had trouble finding any allies to back him. A request to make his re-election announcement on “War Room,” an influential podcast on the right hosted by the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, was rejected, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
While an association with Mr. Santos may be a political drag on Republicans, the impact of his resignation would pose a challenge for leadership. With a slim majority in the House and a fight over the debt ceiling looming, Mr. McCarthy cannot afford to lose Mr. Santos’s vote. The speaker only narrowly passed a bill last month to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, with no Republican votes to spare and Mr. Santos in the “yes” column.
As negotiations with the White House continue, Mr. McCarthy may have more trouble keeping the support of Republicans on the right flank of his party, making Mr. Santos’s vote all the more crucial.
The speaker has even more immediate legislative concerns. On Wednesday, he was struggling to quell opposition to a border security bill, delaying a planned vote on a rule that would set up a floor vote on the legislation on Thursday. Mr. Santos said that he planned to travel to Washington to vote on the measure.
Mr. Santos’s indictment, however, means that Mr. McCarthy may have to plan his legislative schedule around Mr. Santos’s court appearances and trial, making his already tenuous hold on the majority even less secure.
There is no law or precedent that says a member of Congress cannot continue to serve while indicted, and there are several examples of lawmakers who stayed in office before pleading guilty and resigning — or survived and carried on.
Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, was indicted on bribery charges in 2015. A federal jury was unable to reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial, and today Mr. Menendez serves as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, was indicted in 2018 for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds. He did not resign until 2020, after pleading guilty.
Representative Chris Collins, Republican of New York, who was indicted in 2018, resigned before pleading guilty to committing insider trading and then lying to the F.B.I. in an attempt to cover it up.
And Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, was indicted in 2021 on felony charges related to lying to federal authorities who were investigating illegal campaign contributions. He continued to serve until the next year, when he was convicted, at which point he resigned.
Mr. McCarthy, who was the minority leader at the time, noted on Tuesday that the conviction was what had prompted him to tell Mr. Fortenberry that he needed to resign.
Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.