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Beleaguered Rep. George Santos appears to be trying to grab even more attention

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Republicans are urging Congressman George Santos to keep his head down while ethics probes and investigations play out. But the freshman from New York who was caught lying about his resume and his personal life is refusing to comply. Instead, Santos is punching back and now appears to be trying to grab even more attention. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When Senator Mitt Romney of Utah entered the House last week for the State of the Union speech, he found himself face to face with George Santos. The scandal-plagued freshman from Long Island had positioned himself front and center in the crowd.

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MITT ROMNEY: He was standing right there in the aisle shaking hands with everybody.

MANN: Romney was outraged and told reporters later he scolded Santos and told him he should resign.

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ROMNEY: But he shouldn't be there. And if he had any shame at all, he wouldn't be there.

MANN: Only, George Santos is refusing to fade back. He actually seems to be leveraging his notoriety, appearing on conservative news outlets and trolling other Republicans on social media. Congressman Nick Lalota, a Republican who represents a neighboring district in New York, vented his party's frustration during an appearance on CNN.

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NICK LALOTA: He's a sociopath, George Santos. He looks for that attention. Even the negative attention drives him. It's become an embarrassment and a distraction to the Republicans in the House. And every time I have to come to something like this and talk about George Santos, I can't talk about what Republicans ought to be doing instead.

MANN: David Wasserman covers the House for the Cook Political Report. He says Santos is following a political playbook in the Trump era - one where politicians don't back down.

DAVID WASSERMAN: Donald Trump realized shamelessness can pay off politically. We've seen others follow in his footsteps. Now, of course, this is to an unprecedented degree.

MANN: Unprecedented because Santos fabricated his entire professional resume and invented a fictional life story that involved the Holocaust, 9/11, the Pulse nightclub shooting. He's no longer serving on his two House committees, and he now faces multiple investigations, including a probe by the Nassau County district attorney in New York, herself a Republican. But Wasserman says, even facing all this pressure, Santos has no incentive to stay quiet.

WASSERMAN: George Santos isn't someone who's going to take direction from the elder statesmen of the Republican Party. His ability to stay in the news and draw attention to himself is really the only thing he has left.

MANN: Most of the controversy surrounding Santos involves things he allegedly did before he was elected in November. There are big questions about where he got hundreds of thousands of dollars that funded his campaign. But Santos, who hasn't responded to NPR's requests for an interview, faced a new scandal last week. A former volunteer in his congressional office filed a complaint with Capitol Police, accusing the congressman of sexual misconduct, an allegation Santos has denied. House Democrats hoping to keep Santos' troubles front and center introduced a resolution last week to expel him from office. Here's Congresswoman Becca Balint from Vermont.

BECCA BALINT: As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, outraged that he lied about the Pulse nightclub shooting - as the granddaughter of someone killed in the Holocaust, outraged that he used that to get elected. And, you know, I didn't - never thought I'd say this, but I stand with Mitt Romney. He has to go.

MANN: But that measure would require a two-thirds vote from House members, and no one thinks that's likely to happen. Everyone interviewed for this story said they believe Santos will keep his job and his megaphone, at least until voters get another crack at him in 2024. Congresswoman Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, joked about her party's Santos problem at last week's Washington Press Club dinner.

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NANCY MACE: But Santos certainly gets attention. There hasn't been a Republican that's gotten this much buzz since Lauren Boebert went through a metal detector.

MANN: Republicans could pay a price for Santos' attention grabbing. The GOP did well in New York during the midterms. But with Santos in the spotlight, several GOP seats, including his own, could be vulnerable in 2024.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMA GECKO'S "BACKREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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