The morning after Rep. George Santos (R-NY) accused Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) of being obsessed with him-perhaps even, in Santos' less than reliable telling, in a romantic way-Torres was feeling exasperated.
"I am under siege from George Santos," the Bronx Democrat said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Wednesday morning.
But if anything, it's probably the other way around.
George Anthony Devolder Santos has quickly become a bizarre kind of celebrity on Capitol Hill, like a new student in high school whose bad behavior has made him infamous-or maybe just famous-with the faculty and student body.
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In the brutal world of Beltway and New York politics, just as it is in high school, the opportunity to tear someone down is also an opportunity to build another person up.
In recent history, there have been few such opportunities more tantalizing than Santos-and few politicians more eager to take advantage of it than Torres and his fellow New York Democrat, Rep. Daniel Goldman.
The duo, who have become Santos' chief tormentors, insist they are tired of talking about their new scandal-plagued colleague.
"I want the controversy to be put to rest," Torres said. "I'd love for him to leave today. I'd love to never speak about George Santos again."
Leaving a well-attended Capitol press conference on Tuesday-featuring himself, Torres, and an angry group of Santos' constituents calling for his resignation-Goldman let out a chuckle when asked if he was tired of talking about his new colleague.
"Yeah, I'm tired of talking about George Santos," said the Manhattan lawmaker, a former top prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. "I'm tired of the fact that we have a serial con man walking the halls of Congress and voting on legislation."
Many lawmakers are tired of that fact, too, including plenty from Santos' own party. But no one else besides Torres and Goldman has turned that disgust into a veritable side hustle.
Since Semafor wrote on Jan. 11 about Torres and Goldman "needling" Santos, their bullying has perhaps upgraded to torment. The two New York Dems haven't just restricted their efforts to tweets targeting Santos, or to countless media interviews. They have separately asked the Federal Elections Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the House Ethics Committee to investigate him. They hand-delivered the Ethics complaint to Santos' office personally, which was captured in all of its awkward glory on video.
The duo also wrote and introduced the Stopping Another Non-Truthful Office Seeker Act-yes, the SANTOS Act-which would require candidates to file additional information about their educational and employment backgrounds to the FEC.
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"Dan is a famous prosecutor and I'm a bare-knuckles Bronx politician," Torres said. "And I think we've made a formidable combination."
But Torres, a second-term Democrat, has taken on the project with particular gusto. Last month, he visited his colleague's Long Island district for a press conference with a constituent group demanding his resignation.
Overall, since Jan. 3, Torres has tweeted about Santos some 64 times, some days as many as five or six times. Goldman, meanwhile, has tweeted about Santos a comparatively paltry 19 times. A month ago, Semafor calculated, the two had only tweeted about Santos combined 50 times.
"I will admit," Torres said, "I'm obsessed with holding him accountable and expelling him from Congress."
In a brief interview in the Capitol, Santos suggested to The Daily Beast that the two Democrats were using him for publicity, fixating on Torres in particular, who he said "loves the cameras."
"Do you know who Ritchie Torres was over the last two years?" Santos asked. "I didn't. Now it seems like everybody knows who he is-convenient, right?"
At least according to Torres, Santos did know who he was. In 2020, Santos attended new member orientation before his race was called for his Democratic opponent. Torres said they had a "brief interaction."
Meanwhile, when it comes to Goldman, Santos said, "I don't care for Mr. Goldman very much."
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Like many lawmakers in both parties, the pair is genuinely outraged that Santos remains in Congress despite the ever-growing pile of lies, ethical subversions, and potentially criminal violations that the Long Island fraudster has amassed.
As New Yorkers, they are particularly frustrated that Santos has been a distraction and embarrassment for the state's delegation in Congress. And Goldman, who is Jewish, has conveyed his personal offense that Santos fabricated a story about being descended from Holocaust survivors but also made jokes online years ago about Nazis killing Jews.
"We both were not only sort of politically disgusted by this, but personally disgusted by someone else representing our neighbors in Queens and Long Island, who has no legitimacy to be in Congress," Goldman said.
But there's also plenty of political and personal upside for Torres and Goldman-two young, ambitious Democrats-in the cause of bullying George Santos.
A key focus of their pressure campaign has been Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has cautiously navigated the Santos scandals knowing he can spare virtually no votes in his thin House majority. Through their crusade, Torres and Goldman have become some of McCarthy's most vocal critics on the Democratic side-a very good place to be for two representatives from deep-blue New York City.
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While Santos accused the two of being driven by attention, it's true that their push has also had the effect of earning them quite a lot of it.
From Washington to New York, a number of operatives have been chattering about how the two Democrats have harnessed the seemingly inexhaustible power of the Santos scandal cycle to afford themselves an expanded platform.
There was no way they could have anticipated how the Santos drama would play out, but one House Democratic aide noted how both-Torres in particular-"put a lot of chips down right away" after the initial Santos exposes broke in December "and got a significant hand in the larger game."
"I am very impressed how Torres and Goldman have managed to thoroughly conquer that lane," the aide observed.
One New York-based Democratic operative was struck by how uninterested other members of the state's delegation have seemed to be in going after Santos-ceding the spoils of advocacy on the issue to Torres and Goldman.
"What they're doing is what smart politicians do," the operative said. "They look at the news cycle, see what it's giving them, and figure out how to relate and build some capital for themselves off that news cycle."
One news cycle-even one as seemingly interminable as Santos'-does not make or break a career. But Torres and Goldman are considered to be in it for the long haul.
Last month, The New York Times mentioned Torres as a possible contender for U.S. Senate. In 2021, Goldman launched a campaign for New York attorney general, but withdrew when current AG Letitia James ended her campaign for governor. At the very least, both men could remain in their current seats for a long time and amass clout in the House.
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Torres insisted he doesn't need the press. "It's not as if I were an obscure member before. I receive a steady stream of press coverage," he said. (One of the first two Black gay men in Congress, Torres has earned a fair share of media attention.)
"It's about the virtue of the cause," Torres said.
What their push is accomplishing, aside from boosting the two men's profiles and profoundly annoying Santos, is harder to quantify.
Perhaps the strongest denouncements of Santos have come from his fellow New York Republican colleagues, several of whom have publicly called for his resignation. If Torres and Goldman stopped talking about Santos tomorrow, it's highly unlikely the issue would fade from prominence on Capitol Hill in any meaningful way.
But pressure campaigns can work in ways that are hard to quantify, and it's true that the two Democrats have employed creative and headline-grabbing methods of keeping consistent scrutiny on Santos, McCarthy, and GOP leadership.
Goldman said he has "gotten no indication" of exactly how their push is working. But he noted how McCarthy and other top Republicans' positions on Santos have evolved under pressure, from them saying it was about the "voters deciding" to saying that the Ethics Committee findings could result in his ouster.
"You know, perhaps it's some of my advocacy, but a lot of it is the advocacy of groups like this," Goldman said, referring to the New York 3rd District constituents who took the bus to Washington to protest Santos on Tuesday.
"Pressure matters," Torres said. "The resignation of George Santos from his committees didn't happen in a vacuum. It arose in response to an overwhelming pressure campaign that shows no signs of abating."
"As long as he remains a member of Congress," he added, "there needs to be people like Dan and myself who shine a spotlight on him"
While both Democrats speak of Santos in somber and baffled tones, it does appear they are enjoying themselves-at least a little bit.
At the press conference on Tuesday, Torres and Goldman spoke while Santos' constituents held up signs with messages like "Scamtos!" and "I believe in SANTA more than SANTOS." The crowd let out genuine laughs when the lawmakers took aim at the easy targets in Santos' latest lies, which included him claiming he produced a Spiderman musical.
"I give him credit; he's the greatest fiction writer in the history of Congress," Torres said, to laughs.
Asked by The Daily Beast whether they weren't at least having a little fun, Torres paused.
"It's not so much that I'm enjoying it, I'm taken aback by the absurdity of the George Santos phenomenon," he said. "It's laughable, that's where the comedic aspect comes in."
"I would love to stop. I would want nothing more than a Congress free of George Santos," Torres said.
Ursula Perano contributed to this report.
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