George Santos invited a guest to the State of the Union. He said yes.

Rep. George Santos, a Republican facing scrutiny over a web of false claims, including a family connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, will bring in a former firefighter who performed lifesaving work at Ground Zero as a invited to the State of the Union on Tuesday.

Mr. Santos’ guest, Michael Weinstock, a Democrat who ran in the House district that Mr. Santos now represents, said that Mr. Santos formally extended an invitation two weeks ago. Mr. Santos confirmed the invitation in a speech to the House on Monday.

Mr Weinstock said he decided to attend because he currently suffers from a neurological condition linked to his time as a rescue worker and wanted to raise awareness of the needs of those like him.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that I can stay focused enough on the issue of 9/11 responders getting the health care they need without being sullied by George Santos,” Weinstock said.

It has already proven difficult. Mr. Weinstock, a lawyer, said he was fired by his law firm last week over his decision to attend the State of the Union with Mr. Santos.

Members of Congress are typically given a ticket to bring a guest to the State of the Union address, and many of them make token choices either to highlight issues or to make political statements.

But Mr. Santos’ choice of Mr. Weinstock is particularly puzzling given questions about the congressman’s alleged ties to the 9/11 attacks. He said his mother, Fatima Devolder, was at the World Trade Center that day, sometimes saying she worked there as a financial officer. In a July 2021 Twitter post, he said “9/11 cost my mother her life.”

Mr Santos’ campaign website currently says Ms Devolder “survived the tragic events of 9/11, but died a few years later when she lost her battle with cancer”.

Ms Devolder died in 2016, according to her obituary and local media coverage. On immigration documents reviewed by The New York Times, she told government officials in 2003 that she left the United States in 1999 and had not returned since. Friends and former roommates of Mr. Santos did not recall that Ms. Devolder had ever worked in finance, and in immigration documents she described herself as a housekeeper and housekeeper.

Mr Santos’ claims about his mother were one of many that came under scrutiny after the Times revealed he had misled voters about her background and raised questions about his personal and campaign finances. Mr Santos has since been widely ostracized by politicians on both sides of the aisle. Ten other Republican representatives called for his resignation, while others said they refused to associate themselves with him.

Like Mr. Santos, Mr. Weinstock has come under scrutiny for his own ties to 9/11. When he ran in the 2020 Democratic primary against former Rep. Tom Suozzi, the president of his former fire company said there was no record. of Mr. Weinstock being ground zero on behalf of the company. But other former firefighters said they worked with Mr. Weinstock on rescue and recovery efforts there, and Mr. Weinstock provided the media with at least one photo of himself from that day.

Mr. Weinstock would not comment on doubts surrounding Mr. Santos’ alleged ties to 9/11, saying he avoided media coverage of it partly because of his illness and partly because of his personal ties to the congressman.

According to Mr. Weinstock, he and Mr. Santos first met in April 2021 when they exchanged Instagram messages about comments that Mr. Santos, who had already started his second campaign for Congress, was making about the track.

They reconnected in the summer of 2021, after Mr Weinstock suffered a foot injury which later led to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a chronic nerve disorder in which patients develop persistent pain in an injured area of ​​the body . The injury prevented Mr. Weinstock from walking for some time, and Mr. Santos went to his house to check on him.

In September, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Santos posted a photo of Mr. Weinstock on his Instagram account. “I can’t thank Michael enough for his brave actions and for being a first responder,” the caption read. “Michael also happens to be a Democrat and former 2020 congressional candidate who believes in serving his country.”

Mr Weinstock, a volunteer firefighter from 1990 to 2001, said his illness was linked to pollutants he inhaled during rescue efforts from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. At least two medical studies have found a link between nerve-related conditions like Mr Weinstock’s and 9/11 rescuers. But the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides health care to Ground Zero responders and 9/11 survivors, does not offer medical coverage for these conditions.

In the period immediately following his injury, Mr Weinstock said, he was unable to work due to his condition. A year and a half later, he says he still experiences severe pain almost daily which can make it difficult to concentrate, and he sometimes uses a cane to walk.

During his 2022 campaign, Mr. Santos offered to “host a GoFundMe” to raise money for Mr. Weinstock’s medical care, Mr. Weinstock said, noting that he declined the gesture, fearing that the fundraiser will be used as part of Mr. Santos’ political campaign.

But Mr. Weinstock said Mr. Santos came back to him in December, saying he wanted to sponsor a bill that would push for Mr. Weinstock’s condition to be covered by the health fund. Mr. Santos asked Mr. Weinstock to write a backgrounder that would help support the cause. But the issue was dropped after the Times’ initial report on Mr Santos and others that followed.

Mr Weinstock said he did not vote for Mr Santos last year, but was touched by Mr Santos’ concern about his condition and was eager to raise more awareness about the question. Still, he said he found the congressman’s lies during the campaign trail “inexcusable” – a sentiment apparently shared by his former law firm and chief, Wesley Mullen.

According to Mr. Weinstock, Mr. Mullen told him: “I know your motives are pure, but George Santos is so toxic, I don’t want any association with Santos and this company.

Mr. Mullen declined to comment.


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