Updated Sep 27, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Bob Menendez bleeds support from fellow Senate Dems

Sen. Bob Menendez. Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

More than half of Senate Democrats are calling on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to resign after he was indicted on explosive federal bribery charges last week.

Why it matters: Menendez has refused to step down despite mounting political pressure and the emergence of a credible primary challenger.

The latest: Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chair of Senate Democrats' campaign arm, became the highest ranking Senate Democrat to call for Menendez to step down on Tuesday.

  • "Given the serious nature of these charges and how they have undermined the public faith, he is no longer able to serve effectively in the U.S. Senate," Peters said in a statement.
  • The loss of Peters' support is a blow to the reelection campaign Menendez is reportedly gearing up for.

State of play: What began as a trickle over the weekend became a deluge by Thursday morning as Democratic senators came out of the woodwork to publicly urge the defiant Menendez to step down.

  • Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) were the only senators calling for Menendez to step down as of Monday, but the number grew to 28 by Wednesday morning.
  • The ranks of senators calling for Menendez's resignation on Tuesday included Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a close ally who was character witness for Menendez in his 2017 corruption trial that ended in a hung jury.
  • "Senator Menendez fiercely asserts his innocence and it is therefore understandable that he believes stepping down is patently unfair. But I believe this is a mistake," Booker said.

Between the lines: Many of the first senators to call for Menendez's resignation were vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2024, including Brown and Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

  • Any association with Menendez could be toxic for vulnerable Democratic senators as they try to keep the Senate majority next year.
  • The fact that so many of his Senate colleagues are breaking with him in response to this latest indictment underscores the seriousness of the allegations — and the political risks they pose.

Zoom in: New Jersey's governor, state assembly leader and state Democratic Party chair all called for Menendez to step down on Friday.

  • More than half the Democrats in the state's U.S. House delegation have followed suit.
  • And Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) on Saturday launched a primary challenge against the embattled senator, with other prominent Democrats in the state reportedly considering runs.

Yes, but: Some top Senate Democrats are still sticking by Menendez as the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair prepares to go to trial.

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Friday that he "has a right to due process and a fair trial."
  • "That's a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN, referring to the calls for Menendez to resign.
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), another member of leadership, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that she is "not yet" ready to call for Menendez to resign.

The intrigue: Besides Democratic leadership, Menendez is getting backup from across the aisle.

  • Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who faces his own myriad legal challenges, said the New Jersey Democrat "has the right to defend himself."
  • "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," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a post on X.

What he's saying: "The allegations leveled against me are just that — allegations," Menendez said at a press conference Monday.

  • The indictment accused Menendez of taking bribes in exchange for helping a group of New Jersey businessmen, and using his role atop the Foreign Relations Committee to benefit the government of Egypt.
  • "Those who now are attempting to malign my actions as it relates to Egypt, simply don't know the facts," Menendez said Monday.
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