Sen. Menendez flips New Jersey the bird
Sen. Bob Menendez’s decision not to step down over new corruption allegations is a nightmare scenario for his party. (Courtesy of Sen. Menendez’s office)
Six years ago, New Jersey Democrats rallied behind Sen. Bob Menendez’s reelection bid even though Menendez had just skated on federal corruption charges.
Menendez has returned the favor by giving Democrats the middle finger.
Our senior senator visited Union City Monday to deny the allegations he faces in a 39-page indictment unsealed Friday and to indicate that the charges will not be enough to force his retirement. Those charges, as a reminder, range from low-level graft (taking a luxury car and an exercise bike from people seeking favors) to light treason (securing arms for Egypt’s military dictatorship in exchange for money).
Democrats are hoping to keep control of the Statehouse this November, and nationwide they’re trying to retain the U.S. Senate after 2024’s elections. Menendez’s decision not to step down is a nightmare scenario for his party. And frankly, it’s one of their own making.
After Menendez’s 2017 corruption trial ended in a hung jury, Democrats could have urged him to retire so they wouldn’t have to defend a guy who traded favors with a Florida eye doctor/Ponzi schemer. This is New Jersey, after all. A normal Democrat running for the U.S. Senate during the 2018 blue wave would have snagged 60% of the vote without breaking a sweat.
But top Democrats stuck with Menendez anyway, and used the mistrial to paint him as a fighter, a survivor. The kind of a guy who would threaten his political foes on camera while standing outside a federal courthouse, ya know? Just a regular Joe kicked around by the man.
During Menendez’s campaign kickoff in 2018, Sen. Cory Booker used the kind of soaring oratory normally reserved for civil rights marches and presidential inaugurations to implore New Jerseyans to back Menendez.
“When we sang the songs of patriotism and we say those words ‘home of the brave,’ it is when I think of this community and Bob Menendez coming up from these roots that I understand that this is indeed home of one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. But the truth of the matter, if you go out in the world and weather the storms of life, what gives you strength when the storms come is the roots from which you have come from,” Booker said before quoting James Baldwin.
One of the bravest people he’s ever met.
Democrats didn’t stop at propping up Menendez. They helped him create a dynasty by easing the way for his son, Rob, to seek a House seat in the 8th District in 2022 without any robust opposition.
Luckily, most Democrats have learned their lesson, or at least have realized that it won’t be so easy convincing voters a second time that federal prosecutors have it wrong when they say Sen. Menendez is corrupt. Many have asked him to resign — including, as of yesterday, Booker — and at least one, Rep. Andy Kim (D-03), said he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for Menendez’s Senate seat next year.
Menendez was right when he stressed Monday that the charges in Friday’s indictment are only accusations and that everyone is innocent until they’re proven guilty. If Menendez doesn’t think prosecutors have enough evidence to prove his guilt, he should fight the charges in court.
But whether Menendez deserves to mount a defense in court is one issue. Whether he should remain in the U.S. Senate and potentially seek another term while his criminal defense becomes a full-time job is another. New Jersey deserves better than a senator who will spend the next few years arguing that it’s OK to take gold from friends seeking official favors. Most New Jersey Democrats understand that now, finally. Here’s hoping Sen. Menendez comes to the same conclusion soon.
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