The Democratic Party is divided on the issue of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez’s resignation as he faces federal bribery charges.
The senator is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash and gold from three New Jersey businessmen with ties to Egypt. In exchange the senator, formerly chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, provided sensitive information “to benefit the government of Egypt”. He is also accused of interfering in a criminal investigation of the businessmen’s allies.
Mr Menendez has denied the allegations and while he has stepped down from his committee post, he is digging his heels and refusing to resign from the Senate.
Yet a growing list of Democrats across his home state and in Congress are calling for the senator to step down. The list includes New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and a cadre of Democratic county chairs in the state, as well as prominent members of the party in the House and Senate. Several of New Jersey’s Democratic House members broke ranks with their Senate counterpart almost immediately, including Bill Pascrell, Josh Gottheimer, Tom Malinowski, Frank Pallone and Mikie Sherill.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the party’s most prominent members in the House, joined those calls on Sunday.
“I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear. And I believe [resignation] is in the best interest to maintain the integrity of the seat," Ms Ocasio-Cortez said on CBS over the weekend, following a number of other Democrats who had already released similar statements.
One other New Jerseyan, Andy Kim, took things a step further. After Mr Menendez announced his intent to stay in office, Mr Kim, a second-term congressman, announced that he would run in the Senate primary against Mr Menendez next year.
“After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said ’I am not going anywhere.’ As a result, I feel compelled to run against him. Not something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better. We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity,” he tweeted.
After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said “I am not going anywhere.” As a result, I feel compelled to run against him. Not something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better. We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity. Please join me:https://t.co/QFIaMsgJc9
— Andy Kim (@AndyKimNJ) September 23, 2023
In the Senate, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania is the only Democrat calling for Mr Menendez’s removal. The freshman legislator doubled down on that assertion in a text message exchange with a reporter on Monday.
— Ben Smith (@semaforben) September 25, 2023
Their party’s leadership in the chamber has, so far, backed the senator’s decision to remain in office. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the senator had a right to have the allegations play out in court, a tacit refusal to call for his resignation.
“Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial,” Mr Schumer said in the statement.
Dick Durbin, the majority whip and No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, backed Mr Schumer on Sunday.
“In terms of resignation, that’s a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.
“This is a very serious charge. There’s no question about it. But it bears reminding us of what I’ve said about the indictments against Donald Trump, equally serious charges,” the senator told Dana Bash. “These are, in fact, indictments that have to be proven. Under the rule of law, a person who is accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence. And it’s the responsibility of the government to prove that case.”
“I said that about Donald Trump. I’ll say the same thing about Bob Menendez.”
Still others have remained elusive about their views. Mark Kelly, a freshman senator from Arizona, said that the issue would create a “cloud” over his colleague’s service but did not go as far as saying that Mr Menendez should quit.
“These are serious and shocking charges,” Mr Kelly said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I think Sen. Menendez is gonna have to think long and hard about the cloud that’s gonna hang over his service in the United States Senate.”
Mr Menendez released a combative statement in response to the buzz over the weekend.
"It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat," he said. "I am not going anywhere."
President Joe Biden has not yet addressed the charges against Mr Menendez. He remained at the White House this weekend, and released a statement observing the Yom Kippur holiday on Sunday.
The case is the second corruption-related investigation that Mr Menendez has faced as an elected official. The senator was previously acquitted of bribery and mail fraud charges in 2018.