WASHINGTON - Embattled New York Republican Rep. George Santos resigned from his House committee seats early Tuesday as pressure mounted for him to step down from Congress.
But Santos, a freshman who has defied criticism and pledged to serve his two-year term despite calls for his removal, indicated that recusing himself from committees may be a temporary move and that he would return to his positions once his legal and ethical reviews are resolved.
Santos "voluntarily" stepped aside, said Rep. Elise Stefanik, a fellow New York Republican and the House GOP conference chair, in a news conference with House GOP leaders Tuesday morning at the Capitol.
His resignation from the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology committees comes a day after he met with Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that Santos stepping aside was "an appropriate decision."
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The decision confused some Democrats, analysts and academics.
"It strikes me as an unusual step as somebody who has been so adamant about staying in office, basically dismissing his fabrications as embellishments and basically staying the course," said Gregory Wawro, a professor of political science at Columbia University.
House Democratic Chair Pete Aguilar said Tuesday at a Democratic leadership news conference that he was "struck by the chaos, confusion, dysfunction of the Republican conference."
"They defended putting him on committees and now they're announcing that he's not going to serve on committees," he said. "I just don't know what the play of the day is."
Why did Republican George Santos resign from committees?
Santos is facing increased legal scrutiny about his campaign finances, a House Ethics Committee complaint and calls to resign, including from within his own party.
Some of that pressure was extending to McCarthy and other House Republican leaders, who seated Santos on committees but are trying to galvanize votes to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Majority Leader Steve Scalise said Tuesday that Republicans wouldn't object to her nomination but that they would move to vote her off the committee. She would be able to be seated on other committees, but not Foreign Affairs, he said.
Santos told a reporter Tuesday that the Omar debate factored into his decision to temporarily step down and that he didn't want to distract from the opportunity to remove her.
"He doesn't have a lot of levers to pull to get the attention off him," said Casey Burgat, director of the legislative affairs program at George Washington University. "Without resigning from Congress completely ... pressure will continue to build."
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Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican George Santos resigns from House committee seats