As the speaker promptly praised Santos’ “appropriate decision,” Republicans across the conference privately agreed that, with Santos off the Science and Small Business Committees, McCarthy’s leadership team may have an easier time rounding up the votes to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee. That doesn’t mean yanking Omar is a slam-dunk, though — GOP leaders can only lose four votes on their side, assuming full attendance from the likely united Democrats, and three Republicans have publicly stated their opposition.
Senior Republicans are leaning hard on those three and several other undecided Republicans, but two of them made clear the outreach hadn’t worked: “Oh, he’s called me yelling,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said of McCarthy. Referring to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s removal of two of Buck’s fellow Freedom Caucus members from their committees in 2021, Buck added that “I’m just not interested in removing members from the other party in retaliation for Pelosi’s terrible decisions.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who’s also opposed to removing Omar, said on Tuesday that “I ran on being an independent voice and I will continue to do that. … I don’t care how much pressure people put on me.
“All things that I thought Republicans stood for and stood against,” she added, “we’re doing the opposite of that right now.”
Mace also pointed to “rumors of others being undecided, but who are not being vocal about it.” Two other House Republicans — Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Tim Burchett of Tennessee — say they have not made up their minds ahead of the vote on ousting Omar.
And while some Republican members privately said this week that Rep. Victoria Spartz had changed her mind, the Indiana Republican’s chief of staff, Liz Dessauer, told POLITICO she “is not changing her mind and has been very consistent that her issue is a lack of due process and equal justice under the law.”
Mace sounded a similar note, cautioning that the language of the bill matters and so does due process for members who face removal from committees their leaders have assigned them. The South Carolina Republican wouldn’t say if she was open to allowing the vote to pass by other means — such as voting present or missing the vote, and said she was still trying to read the language of the resolution.
Notably, House Republicans who oppose or are on the fence about taking Omar off the foreign affairs panel are largely agreed with the rest of their conference in criticizing the Minnesota progressive, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Mace slammed Omar as “racist,” and an “antisemite” — a reference to her past criticisms of Israel, which Omar has apologized or attempted to clarify amid Democratic pushback — but then added: “That doesn’t give us a right as a conference to tell her what she should say or how or what her opinion should be.”
As McCarthy privately applies strong pressure to key holdouts as his leadership team’s anti-Omar whip count staggers, speaking one-on-one with Mace on Tuesday, absences on his side of the aisle are also a concern. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), for one, is still recovering after sustaining critical injuries from a 25-foot fall.
Afterward, McCarthy said he and Mace had a good discussion where he “just wanted to lay all the facts out,” arguing that there is “a lot of difference [between] what we’re doing [and] what Democrats” did during the last Congress by removing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from the committees in response to incendiary or threatening rhetoric.
Asked if he’s confident they have the votes, GOP Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) demurred but said: “We’ll see when [Democrats] make their committee assignments.”
That committee-seating process hasn’t been entirely simple for Republicans, either. Santos — who’s under a slew of local and federal investigations — had continued to grab headlines as he was assigned to his own pair of panels. In a statement on his decision, the New Yorker avowed that “the business of the 118th Congress must continue without media fanfare.”
Santos’ move was quickly embraced by his home-state GOP colleagues, several of whom have already called for his resignation amid the growing controversy over his misstatements about his past.
“I think it’s obvious it’s the right decision,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who toppled House Democrats’ former campaign chief in a swing-district midterm triumph two months ago.
Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) echoed that sentiment: “As I said, I think he should resign and focus on his defense. But, do welcome this decision.”
Santos declined to comment when first asked about the move Tuesday morning, later pointing to the party’s push to punish Omar for her own past remarks.
And there appeared to be some uncertainty on Tuesday about whether Santos — who faces multiple investigations on the federal, state and local levels into potential false statements about his background — would try to return to his committees at some point. McCarthy said that any members named to fill the spots Santos is forgoing would take those seats on a temporary basis, and Santos described his decision as similarly short-term in his statement.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said Tuesday morning that Santos had apologized and described his move as a temporary recusal, after which “he’ll come back” to the panels he’d not yet been seated on.
“It sounded to me like it’s temporary,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who chairs the Small Business Committee. “I think, until there’s a level of what he thinks the issues that he’s a distraction from are over.”
Despite the multiple probes Santos is currently dealing with, Williams said he didn’t sense the move stemmed from looming legal issues.
“I’ve seen members do that before, usually when they were under some sort of legal question or something like that — just step back on their own. If they don’t do it, we quite often do it ourselves,” House Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, adding that Santos “deserves some credit for doing it” before any internal move that may have been made against him.
The small business panel had not yet named its Republican members as of Tuesday. A panel spokesperson attributed the delay on Monday to reasons other than Santos.
Jordain Carney contributed to this report.