But perhaps no hiring is being scrutinized more closely this year than Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who has been buried in an avalanche of revelations since his election in November that indicate he is not the person he once claimed to be. For example, he didn’t graduate from Baruch College (or play volleyball for his team). Nor did he work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. And his grandparents did not flee the persecution of the Jews in Ukraine.
There are also questions about where his money came from, how he funded his campaign, and his work for a Florida company that is suing the SEC and alleged to be a “classic Ponzi scheme.”
Even as he had to answer — or not answer — those myriad questions, Santos has assembled a staff for his Washington and county offices, the No. 1 priority for first-term representatives. That means interviewing applicants, vetting resumes, conducting background checks, and finding people willing to work for a member who seems allergic to telling the truth.
Taking a job for Santos can be difficult for staffers. In conversations with more than a dozen former and current Republican and Democratic legislators and staffers, many wondered if those who will work for Santos, especially senior staffers, would ever be able to find another congressional office that would hire them.
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So far, public information is available for only five positions Santos has held, including chief of staff and communications director, according to LegiStorm, which tracks and posts congressional hirings. The initial makeup of Santos’ staff seems to lack the deep Capitol Hill experience that new members typically seek to help get off to an effective start and quickly adapt to the rhythms and demands of Congress.
Santos hired Charles Lovett as his chief of staff. Lovett served as Santos’ campaign manager and worked as a field organizer for the Ohio Republican Party for six months, according to LegiStorm. He also served as political director for Ohio Republican Josh Mandel’s failed primary bid for the Senate. He has not worked on the mound before. Viswanag Burra, Santos operations director, served as director of special operations for Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and most recently served as executive secretary for the New York Young Republican Club.
His communications director, Naysa Woomer, seems to have the most Hill experience. She worked for three Republican members between 2014 and 2018 before moving to Massachusetts to become communications director for the Republican State Party and then communications specialist for the State Department of Revenue.
Rafaello Carone, Santos’ senior legislative assistant, worked for three GOP members, but he was briefly in each office. He was social media manager for Rep. for six months. Madison Cawthorn (RN.C.), two months as Deputy Director of Communications for Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and a month as press secretary for Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), according to LegiStorm. He also ran a consulting firm that worked primarily for long-running Republican congressional candidates. Gabrielle Lipsky, who was Santos’ press secretary, will be his press secretary and office manager. She has no Hill experience.
A Santos aide familiar with the hiring process said the LegiStorm site is not up to date and the congressman’s DC and NY offices are “fully staffed.” Each member of Congress is given 18 full-time staff positions to be distributed among their offices as they see fit.
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Woomer, Santos’ communications director, said Thursday that the congressman would not be available for an interview for this story. His staff, she said, “have taken on all of this because we have an interest in serving the voters of the 3rd Congressional District.” Santos employees did not respond to emails asking for comment.
Fully staffed or not, Santos’ offices must already respond to the deluge of requests from voters and others that typically fill congressmen’s inboxes.
Jimmy Keady, a Virginia-based GOP strategist whose career as a Hill staffer has included serving on senior staff for congressional freshmen, said it’s “absolutely” for a freshman in Congress to surround himself with Hill veterans who know what they’re doing. do – otherwise, they can find themselves underwater quite quickly.
“Capitol Hill is not a place where you can just, you know, walk in and understand what you need to do,” Keady said. “There are a lot of rules, there are a lot of regulations and there are a lot of pitfalls that a lot of these freshmen make because they don’t have experienced staff around them.”
If a new member isn’t immediately focused on constituent services, Keady said, voters will feel it.
“If you have members who decide, ‘I’m going to undermine my constituents’ services, and I’m not going to [legislative director] – I just have six people on the communications staff, you know, that’s fine – you could get that on Fox News,” Keady said. “But that voter who’s been waiting six months for his veteran’s allowance isn’t getting any service, because that’s also a congressman’s job.”
At the top of a new member’s to-do list is renting a district office or offices – and equipping them with everything, including the Internet, telephones, desks, chairs, and paperclips. And from day one, they need to start responding to the incessant questions from voters who need help with Social Security checks, veterans issues, and passports. And that’s all while the new member becomes acquainted with Washington politics and the rules, official or not, of Congress.
Jeff Jackson, a freshman Democrat from North Carolina, documents his first weeks in Congress on Instagram with posts about everything, including how new Representatives choose their office space and explaining financial disclosures. He said hiring people with experience on the hill and in his district was a priority.
“Having people come in who are well versed in how to do this gives me a lot of comfort,” Jackson said in an interview. “I’ve only been here a few weeks, but what I’ve learned is that a tidal wave of work hits our office every day and it takes a whole team to stay afloat. If you’re just one man on a surfboard, you’ll be crushed.”
It’s hard enough to get offices up and running under normal circumstances, but Santos is under intense media scrutiny. And he faces calls to relinquish his seat not only from Democrats, but also from Republicans, including six GOP representatives from New York.
This month, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican freshman whose district borders Santos’s, who told Santos “outright lies” and called for him to resign. And Nassau County Republican Committee Chairman Joseph G. Cairo Jr. said Santos no longer had the support of Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District. “George Santos’ campaign last year was a campaign of deceit, lies and fabrication,” Cairo said at a press conference on Jan. 11. “He has disgraced the House of Representatives and we do not consider him one of our members of Congress.”
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Santos has said he will not resign his seat. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who needs Santos’ vote as he insists on a narrow majority in the House, has also rejected calls for Santos to resign, saying this month that Santos was legally elected and without objection has sat down. House Republicans have assigned Santos to the House Small Business and Science, Space and Technology committees.
Freshman Rep. Chuck Edwards (RN.C.) knows all too well what can happen when members allow members’ services to be neglected: He cleans up the mess left by his predecessor, Madison Cawthorn.
Cawthorn, who took office in 2021 at age 25 and left in scandal, prioritized publicity as a legislator. “I’ve built my workforce around communication rather than law,” he wrote in an email to Republican colleagues published by Time Magazine in 2021.
After losing to Edwards in a GOP primary, Cawthorn largely went MIA in some of his duties as a Congressman. In October, calls to his district office were answered by a voicemail saying he was winding down the office and not taking on new business — even though outgoing congressmen usually keep the office open and hand over all files to the incoming member so that there is no interruption of service to residents in their district.
Instead, Edwards said Cawthorn left him nothing — “no files, no data, no something.”
“We had to start from scratch,” he said.
Trying to get a head start as he served out the rest of his term in the North Carolina Senate, he encouraged voters who had encountered Cawthorn’s silence to contact his state office. He recently heard of students who thought Cawthorn would nominate them for military academies and became concerned as the deadline approached.
In the Senate, he said, “Our office mantra was first in the constituent services. We’ve already made that the office mantra of this convention bureau.
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For staffers who have chosen to work for Santos, a future on Capitol Hill could be difficult to negotiate, said George McElwee, who served as chief of staff to former GOP congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and also chaired the House Chiefs of Staff Association.
“Especially for the staff in those higher positions, people start to wonder why they are there. Why are they continuing?” said McElwee, who is now a lobbyist at a bipartisan company he co-founded in Washington. “And it’s probably going to hurt them in their job prospects at some point.”
McElwee doesn’t expect Santos to be able to hold on to staffers who hope to have a career on the Hill.
“Many of the people in his office are probably keeping an eye out and trying to figure out a way to get out,” he said. “They know it’s not a stable environment for them in their political future.”