- Fellow Democrats have yet to come to Sen. Bob Menendez’s side in the wake of a stunning indictment.
- When Menendez faced similar corruption charges in 2015, his party was quick to rally around him.
- Federal prosecutors allege that this time he accepted bribes to secretly benefit the Egyptian government.
Update: After this story was published, New Jersey Democrats broke their silence virtually en masse, calling for Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez to step down after he was federally indicted for an alleged bribery scheme. Gov. Phil Murphy led the calls for the state’s senior senator to step down.
“The alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state,” Murphy said in a statement. “Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez is facing an embattled political future as he stares down a federal indictment related to an alleged bribery scheme to secretly benefit the government of Egypt.
This time, even his once self-proclaimed sidekick is not immediately coming to the rescue.
As Politico’s Matt Friedman pointed out, in 2015 New Jersey Democrats were quick to rally around their senior US senator.
“If you want an idea of where NJ Dem support for Menendez stands, consider this: The day of his 2015 indictment, he had statements of support from them immediately lined up. Today, they’ve all so far been publicly silent,” Friedman, who has been covering Garden State politics for decades, wrote on Twitter.
Arguably, few did so with more gusto at the time than Sen. Cory Booker, the state’s junior senator, whose star was continuing to rise in Washington. At the time, Booker vowed, ” I won’t waver in my commitment to stand alongside my senior Senator to serve our great state.” Months before the 2015 indictment, Booker had deemed himself “the Robin to his Batman.”
It’s not even clear if the senator himself is ready for another round. Stories about his 2015 indictment feature accounts of a IStandwithBob.com and an accompanying Twitter account that reposted signs of support. The site is now dead and the account last posted a tweet in 2016.
“To my supporters, friends and the community at large, I ask that you recall the other times the prosecutors got it wrong and that you reserve judgement,” Menendez said in a statement after the charges were announced. “I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is.”
Federal prosecutors allege that Menendez and his wife, Nadine, accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes in exchange for using his position to try to help Egypt.
Booker and Gov. Phil Murphy remained silent through Friday afternoon even as other Democrats began to speak out. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Menendez had a right to a fair trial. The top Senate Democrat also confirmed that the New Jersey senator will step down from leading the powerful Senate Foreign Relations committee. Rep. Andy Kim, a fellow New Jersey Democrat, called on Menendez to resign while he wages his legal fight.
“I don’t have confidence that the Senator has the ability to properly focus on our state and its people while addressing such a significant legal matter,” Kim said in a statement, first reported by the New Jersey Globe. “He should step down.”
So far, the most notable sign of support has come from Rep. Rob Menendez, the senator’s son.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says the White House would not comment on the situation “because it’s an active matter.”
It is expected that like in 2015, Menendez may have to step down from his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Only this time, he’s now the leader of the powerful panel.
It makes sense why Democrats are more cautious this time. In 2015, then-Gov. Chris Christie could have appointed a Republican to the seat if Menendez were to have resigned. Now, Democrats can easily tap one of their own. But that might not be the only factor. Menendez’s 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial and he was easily reelected that same year. He’s potential reelection this November looks far more dicey.
A recent Monmouth University poll found the senator is now less popular than he was during the 2015 ordeal. Unlike that experience, Menendez is unlikely to have the case resolved if he were to run for reelection next November. The same poll found that the earlier news of a federal investigation had tanked his numbers, which were above water last year. Now, 35% of New Jerseyans approve of his performance versus 44% that disapprove. In comparison, Booker is sitting much better.
Some Democrats quickly came forward to criticize him. Menendez famously clashed with the Obama administration over the Iran nuclear deal and reapproaching relations with Cuba. A former top Obama aide saw an opportunity to strike back.
“Menendez has had a de facto veto on US Cuba policy, piling sanction after sanction on an impoverished people wrapped in the language of democratic values while apparently supporting the Egyptian dictatorship for personal gain. A little too on the nose,” Ben Rhodes, a former Obama deputy national security advisor and speechwriter, wrote on Twitter.
Menendez can only hope that Robin will still come to his aid. The bat signal is clearly flashing.