Menendez faces avalanche of Democratic calls to step down

Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) vow to keep his seat ran into an avalanche of calls to resign from his own party on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, only three Senate Democrats had called for Menendez to step down. By the end of the day that number had swelled to at least 20, creating trouble for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the process.

Sen. Cory Booker, Menendez’s fellow New Jersey Democrat and longtime ally, broke his silence on Tuesday to call on him to step down, marking a major blow in the senior New Jersey senator’s quest to hold on after being indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges.

Booker was a top defender of Menendez after his 2015 indictment on corruption charges. Those charges were dropped in 2018. He nodded to that long friendship in his statement, saying he found it the charges Menendez is facing “hard to reconcile with the person I know.”

But in a lengthy statement, Booker labeled the latest allegations “shocking” and argued that Menendez is making a “mistake” by not resigning. 

“Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost. Senator Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again,” Booker said. “I believe stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving.” 

Other Senate Democrats joined the fray, including those up for reelection in 2024 and high-profile names. 

“Yes,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told The Boston Globe  when asked if he should do so. “These are serious charges, and it’s time for Sen. Menendez to step away from the Senate and concentrate on his legal defense.”

One group, however, remains notably absent in calls for Menendez to step down: the upper echelon of Senate Democratic leadership. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) remained mum on Tuesday and did not address the situation during his remarks to open the Senate floor. Instead, he focused on government spending, a potential shutdown later this week and the ongoing United Auto Workers strike.

The situation is setting up to be a major issue for Schumer to contend with. The New York Democrat could hold the keys to Menendez’s future, just as he did in 2017 when he quietly pushed then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to step aside after allegations of sexual misconduct and a growing drumbeat within the caucus calling for his resignation.

“This is a real test. It’s only a distraction as long as he lets it be one,” one Democratic operative told The Hill.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also did not further address the situation after his initial comments over the weekend.

One Senate Democratic aide added that more will likely be known on Wednesday when Senate Democrats meet for their weekly lunch, which will be the first chance for members to discuss it together. 

“That’s probably where s*** will go down,” the aide continued.

Adding to the political conundrum for Schumer is that a number of those who have issued calls for Menendez’s resignation are also up for reelection next year: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

“I’ve read the detailed charges against Senator Menendez and find them deeply disturbing,” Tester, who is widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up in 2024, said in a statement. “While he deserves a fair trial like every other American, I believe Senator Menendez should resign for the sake of the public’s faith in the U.S. Senate.”

Among those who also joined the pro-resignation chorus on Tuesday was Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and argued that the New Jersey lawmaker “undermined the public’s faith.”

“He is no longer able to serve effectively in the U.S. Senate. I urge Sen. Menendez to resign,” he said. 

Menendez though has shown precious few signs of being ready to vacate his seat. After issuing a searing statement on Friday and declaring that he isn’t “going anywhere,” he appeared Monday for a press event to decry those calling for his exit and to plead his innocence.

“I’m innocent, what’s wrong with you guys,” he said at the Capitol Tuesday. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, sought to set up a contrast between Democrats’ response to Menendez and how some Republicans have treated former President Trump’s four indictments. 

“Contrary to the Republicans, we are not attacking the FBI or the Department of Justice or threatening violence against anyone,” Stabenow told The Hill. “I think we are approaching this with the seriousness that it deserves.”

The Menendez situation is also creating a potential political opening for Republicans, who sense an opportunity if he is on the ballot in November. 

They declined to echo calls for giving Menendez the boot and argued that he should be afforded due process until his case is adjudicated. 

“The allegations against the Senior Senator from New Jersey are nasty & the evidence offered difficult to explain away,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said . “But in America guilt is decided by a jury, not politicians in fear of their party losing a Senate seat.”

In the end, though, Senate Democrats say they’ll still have to work with Menendez.

“We’ll have to. Every state sends two, and if I want the folks who represent another state to respect the two that Virginia send, then I’ve got to be willing to work together,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “These charges are very, very serious. If they’re true, they’re disqualifying. But anybody charged with a crime, from President Trump [or] Hunter Biden to somebody who shows up in Richmond traffic court tomorrow, they’re entitled to argue that the charges aren’t true. Sen. Menendez is entitled too, but they are as serious as can be.”

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Murphy, head of Senate Middle East subcommittee, calls on Menendez to resign

The top senator overseeing U.S. policy in the Middle East called for Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to resign in light of a federal indictment on bribery charges that included influencing the government of Egypt.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East said an inquiry needs to be launched into Egypt’s behavior toward the committee.

“I think Senator Menendez needs to resign. It’s the best, best pass path forward for the Senate,” he told The Hill on Tuesday.

“It’s a devastating series of allegations and as a committee, we now have a responsibility to understand what Egypt was doing and what Egypt thought it was getting. There are serious implications for U.S. policy towards Egypt. If, as the indictment suggests, they [Egypt] were trying to use illicit means to curry favor on the committee,” he added. 

Murphy further called for the Foreign Relations committee to exercise a hold to block the Biden administration from providing $235 million in military assistance to Egypt, a move that the administration and supporters view as important to protect U.S. national security interests. 

Opponents say the security assistance should be withheld over concerns about Egypt’s human rights record. 

“So the administration has provided a waiver on $235 million to Egypt. I would hope that our committee will consider using any ability it has to put a pause on those dollars pending an inquiry into what Egypt was doing,” he said, but did not comment on what body should carry out an investigation. 

“I have not talked to colleagues about this yet. But obviously this raises pretty serious questions about Egypt’s conduct,” he added.

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Rosen becomes fourth vulnerable Democratic senator to demand Menendez resign 

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who faces a competitive re-election race next year, on Tuesday became the fourth vulnerable Senate Democrat and the seventh Senate Democrat overall to call for embattled Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to resign.  

“The well-documented political corruption charges are a violation of the public trust, and Senator Menendez should resign,” Rosen said in a statement. “While he is entitled to due process and a fair trial, this is a distraction that undermines the bipartisan work we need to do in the Senate for the American people.” 

It would have been awkward for Rosen to stay quiet about the serious allegations facing Menendez considering she introduced the “No Corruption Act” in March, which would bar members of Congress from collecting taxpayer-funded pensions if they are convicted of felonies related to their official duties. 

She co-sponsored the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in July, with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).  

“For too long, loopholes have made it possible for corrupt Washington politicians convicted of felonies to continue collecting taxpayer-funded pensions — that’s unacceptable,” she said at the time.  

If Menendez, who was indicted Friday on bribery, fraud and extortion charges, is convicted, Rosen’s and Scott’s bill to strip convicted officeholders of their pensions will get fresh attention.

Three other senators facing tough races next year have called on Menendez to step down : Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).  

Montanans for Tester and Bob Casey for Senate, Tester’s and Casey’s campaigns, told The Hill Tuesday that they would each refund the $10,000 donations they collected from Menendez’s political action committee (PAC) this cycle.   

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