Sen. Mitt Romney had sharp words for embattled Rep. George Santos on the House floor before President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Santos, R-N.Y., managed to get an aisle seat in the chamber for the president’s speech, and as Romney walked past him, the Utah Republican stopped to say something to the freshman congressman.
Cameras captured the brief exchange, and it appears Romney said “I’d be embarrassed” three times, as well as, “I wouldn’t be here.” Santos nodded a few times, and responded, but with his back to the cameras for most of the encounter, it wasn’t clear what he said, according to The Week.
CNN reporter Melanie Zanona tweeted that a member of Congress who witnessed the exchange told her that Romney said to Santos, “You don’t belong here.”
After the speech, Romney confirmed that he did tell Santos that he doesn’t belong in Congress.
“He shouldn’t have been there. Look, he’s a sick puppy. He shouldn’t have been there,” Romney told reporters after the speech.
Romney said he didn’t expect Santos to be standing in the aisle “trying to shake hands with every senator and the president of the United States. Given that fact that he’s under ethics investigation, he should be sitting in the back row and staying quiet.”
Not clear what was said here between Romney and Santos pic.twitter.com/1ZqzW6WOCY— Acyn (@Acyn) February 8, 2023
Elected in November, Santos faces multiple investigations after he admitted to lying about his job experience, college education and family history, and questions remain about his campaign finances. Several New York Republican lawmakers have called on Santos to resign, but he has refused.
Romney said Santos has said that he embellished his record, but embellishing is saying “you got an A when you got an A minus. Lying is saying you graduated from a college you didn’t even attend.”
Santos, he said, “shouldn’t be in Congress, and they’re going to go through the process and hopefully get him out ... and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.”
Romney said Santos “may have” responded but he didn’t hear what he said.
Santos later tweeted, “Hey @MittRomney just a reminder that you will NEVER be PRESIDENT!” He included his own previous tweet saying, “Donald Trump will be the 47th POTUS.”
MITT on Santos: “He shouldn't be in Congress. And they're gonna go through the process and hopefully get him out. But he shouldn't be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn't be there.” pic.twitter.com/9cAQ2dsO1V— Alan He (@alanhe) February 8, 2023
Ed Krassenstein, who gained notoriety for frequently replying to former President Donald Trump’s tweets, reacted to the exchange between Romney and Santos, tweeting, “Thank you Mitt Romney for standing up to George Santos at the State of the Union.”
Cameras captured Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, with an incredulous look on his face as Biden insisted some Republicans want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare. Shortly after, Lee tweeted on his personal account, “He’s not well.”
And Lee later tweeted, “This is elder abuse,” drawing several replies including one saying, “Can you please bring decorum back to politics? Pettiness isn’t a Utah value.
After the speech, Lee posted a video on YouTube of himself interviewing Utah GOP Gov Spencer Cox, who was in the chamber as the senator’s guest, about the experience and the speech. Both critiqued the style and substance of the president’s remarks.
“This one was objectively different than any other I’ve attended because the president of the United States looked us right in the eye and mischaracterized what half the people in the chamber believe,” Lee said. “It wasn’t true, and he did that not just once; he did it two, three, four times.”
Lee said Biden “looked a little bit confused” when Republicans pushed back on him as they did out loud several times during the 73-minute address. “He’s not at his best,” the senator said.
“If you’re writing for applause lines, you write crappy speeches,” Cox said, adding there’s not much substance in those kinds of speeches. “I say that when Republicans give them. They’re just not good speeches at all. It’s just red meat or blue meat or whatever it is blue throws out.”
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, said that Biden isn’t telling the truth about the GOP position on those social programs.
“President Biden is LYING. Republicans want to SAVE and STRENGTHEN Medicare and Social Security,” he tweeted during the speech.
Lee started criticizing Biden’s speech even hours before he gave it, tweeting, “How many minutes before @POTUS says something that makes everyone feel awkward tonight?”
Owens kept a running “fact check” on Twitter questioning the president’s statements throughout the address.
In a statement after the speech, Owens said though Biden took a victory lap for “historic accomplishments,” Americans know the truth.
“This president is responsible for the highest inflation in four decades, unaffordable and unreliable energy, weakened national security, surging violent crime, and the worst border crisis our country has ever seen,” he said.
Instead of leading the nation through a string of “self-inflicted crises,” the president has once again put a “radical” agenda above the safety, security and prosperity of the nation, Owens said.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said in a statement that Biden’s address was filled with “empty promises and hollow claims.” Voters, he said, sent a message last November that they want Republicans to be a counterbalance to the single-party rule in Washington.
“I see this as an opportunity to find bipartisan ground this Congress on issues impacting Utahns. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the real issues,” he said.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Biden’s speech was “out of touch.”
“It imaged a very different version of our nation from the reality that Americans face every day. This administration’s policy has left our economy uncertain, our military weakened, and our adversaries emboldened. That’s why Americans elected a new Republican majority,” he said in a statement.
Stewart said the divided Congress is an opportunity to make bipartisan progress, including in the area of mental health. He applauded Biden for acknowledging the crisis among the nation’s young people. Stewart said he looks forward to working together to help Americans struggling with mental health challenges.
As for Biden’s speech, Romney said he was pleased the president talked about Ukraine and China, and the U.S. commitment to preserve democracy around the world. He said Biden “got off on the wrong foot” when he said some Republicans want to cut Medicare and Social Security.
“That’s just not true,” Romney said in a YouTube video. “That was just plain and simple wrong. You could see he had to backtrack as he raised the topic and saw such a chorus of response” of Republicans shouting no.
Like other members of Utah’s all-GOP delegation, Rep. Blake Moore said Biden saying Republicans want to cut Medicare was the “most disingenuous” thing he said all night.
“This has emerged as the Democrats’ chosen campaign narrative leading into 2024, and I was very disappointed he used his speech to spread that rhetoric,” Moore said in a statement.
The speech, he said, came across as “tone deaf” to Americans who are struggling with historic inflation, harmful open border policies, and compromised national security. Biden, he said, talks about unity but his actions speak otherwise.
“His administration’s hyper-partisan fiscal policies have caused inflation to skyrocket, and reckless spending has become our country’s greatest threat. Illegal immigration, drug trafficking, burdensome regulations, and supply chain challenges are wreaking havoc on our economic stability and national security,” Moore said. “Our national security posture is weak and lacks leadership.”