Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) in the House chamber in January.

Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) in the House chamber in January. Credit: Getty Images/Win McNamee

WASHINGTON — Rep. George Santos stepped out of federal court in Central Islip on Wednesday vowing to proceed with his reelection campaign despite bipartisan calls for his resignation and as potential candidates were lining up for the competitive congressional seat.

“I will prove myself innocent and then we’ll move from there,” Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) told reporters after his arraignment on charges such as defrauding political donors, fraudulently receiving COVID-19 unemployment benefits and lying on federal financial disclosure forms.

Asked about his reelection chances, Santos, who was not widely known before defeating Democrat Robert Zimmerman in the 3rd  Congressional District, said, “Elections are very tricky, and it's up to the people. I trust them to decide what's best.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CNN shortly after Santos' remarks that he will not endorse his reelection bid and would support his removal if the House Ethics Committee determines he broke the law.

"Santos has a lot going on. I think he has other things to focus on in his life other than running for reelection," McCarthy said.

Roll Call, a publication covering Capitol Hill, recently listed the 3rd District as the most vulnerable congressional seat at play in 2024.

The district, which historically leans Democratic, was redrawn in 2022 as part of the decennial redistricting process. The new boundaries, drawn by a court-appointed special master, included more Republican enclaves in Nassau.

Roll Call this week rated the district a “toss-up" in 2024, as did the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in its February “Crystal Ball” report.

Republicans for months have sought to distance themselves from Santos, particularly as they attempt to preserve the four New York House seats flipped by Republicans in 2022. They include Santos' district and that of Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park), who beat Democrat Laura Gillen in the 4th Congressional District.

D’Esposito has repeatedly called for Santos’ resignation, and issued a statement Tuesday calling Santos a “serial fraudster.”

Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Cairo, in a statement Wednesday, repeated the party’s position that Santos “has no future” with the party.

Cairo has not publicly endorsed any potential candidates.

Republican Kellen Curry, a military veteran and business executive, and Philip Sean Grillo of Queens, who has been charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, have announced primary challenges to Santos.

Democrats who have filed to run include former State Sen. Anna Kaplan, of Port Washington, Nassau County Legis. Josh Lafazan (D-Woodbury) and St. John's University law professor William Murphy.

Zimmerman and former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) also are mentioned as potential Democratic candidates.

In the House, several GOP members privately have expressed concern the party could lose the 3rd District seat in a special election if Santos is forced from office. That could endanger the Republicans' narrow majority, 

So as some rank-and-file House members repeated their calls for Santos to resign, top House GOP leaders shied away from that position.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), the top-ranking New York Republican in the House, told reporters on Capitol Hill, “the legal process is going to play out.”

Stefanik, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and the No. 3 ranking House Republican, repeated arguments made earlier by McCarthy that the legal process should dictate the House’s next move.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress from either party has been indicted,” Stefanik said.

But first-term Rep. Nick LaLota (R-Amityville), walking into a GOP conference meeting on Wednesday morning, told reporters he “can’t wait until he’s gone” when asked about Santos' indictment.

President Joe Biden, asked Wednesday whether Santos should be expelled from the House, said: “That’s for Congress to decide.”

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