Menendez urged to step down by a growing number of U.S. Senate Democrats
This story was updated at 8 p.m. on Sept. 26, 2023, with additional comment.
WASHINGTON — More than two dozen U.S. Senate Democrats, including both of Georgia’s senators, are calling on New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez to resign following his indictment on corruption charges for the second time.
Among the 26 senators on the record as of Tuesday night was New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who said in a statement that Menendez’s refusal to step down was a “mistake.”
“Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost,” Booker said.
Menendez, who has temporarily stepped down from the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has vehemently denied the charges, and has reiterated that he does not intend to resign.
“I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez said Monday.
Booker was the first Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee to call for Menendez’s resignation.
Additional Democratic senators calling for Menendez to resign include Bob Casey and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania; Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Peter Welch of Vermont; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Jon Tester of Montana; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Jacky Rosen of Nevada; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; Mark Kelly of Arizona; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Mazie Hirono of Hawaii; and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia; Gary Peters of Michigan; Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
Independent Sen. of Vermont Bernie Sanders also called for Menendez to resign.
“The covenant we have with the American people is sacred, and ensuring the public has faith that those of us elected to serve are working for them and not other interests is paramount,” Warnock said in a statement.
“Senator Menendez has every right to make his case in our courts, but for the good of public trust in our institutions and our democracy, he should step aside and resign.”
Ossoff said this to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday: “Given the totality of the circumstances surrounding this indictment, I think it’s time for Senator Menendez to step aside.”
Breach of public trust
Nearly all the Senate Democrats argued that while Menendez is innocent until proven guilty, the charges are egregious enough that they are a breach of public trust, and urged him to resign.
“He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations,” Fetterman, who was the first Democrat to call for Menendez to quit, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Several senators have already announced they plan to give away campaign funds accepted from Menendez’s political action committee.
Tester and Casey, who both have tough 2024 re-election campaigns, said they are each donating $10,000 in contributions from Menendez’s PACs, according to the Hill.
Tester’s campaign will donate its $10,000 to a veterans’ charity, and Casey’s campaign will donate its $10,000 to an unspecified organization.
“Public service is a sacred trust,” Casey said in a statement. “The specific allegations set forth in the federal indictment indicate to me that Senator Menendez violated that trust repeatedly.”
Fetterman also announced he will be returning $5,000 from a PAC associated with Menendez, according to CNBC.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said on the Senate floor last week that Menendez had “rightfully” stepped down from his position as chair of Foreign Relations, and did not express an opinion as to whether Menendez should remain in office.
“Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey,” Schumer said. “He has a right to due process and a fair trial.”
The White House has largely pivoted away from the matter. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday whether Menendez resigns is “certainly going to be up to him and the Senate leadership.”
But not all senators are calling for him to step down.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas criticized the Justice Department for prosecuting Menendez.
“He should be judged by jurors and New Jersey’s voters, not by Democratic politicians who now view him as inconvenient to their hold on power,” Cotton said on X.
And when asked on MSNBC, Democratic Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said she wanted to “let this move forward this week and we’ll see what happens.”
However, by late Tuesday, Stabenow called for Menendez to resign.
Federal authorities last week charged New Jersey’s senior senator with one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right.
Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for official favors meant to aid three men — Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes — and the nation of Egypt. Nadine Menendez, Hana, Uribe, and Daibes are named in the indictment.
A handful of New Jersey lawmakers have also called on Menendez to resign, such as U.S. Democratic Reps. Andy Kim, Bill Pascrell, Jr., Josh Gottheimer and Tom Malinowski.
Kim also shortly announced plans to run against Menendez for his seat.
This is not the first time federal prosecutors have charged Menendez. In 2018, New Jersey prosecutors dropped a case where Menendez was charged with campaign contributions and other bribes in exchange for official favors.