More than half of Senate Democrats have now urged Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., to step down from his seat in light of his federal bribery indictment.
What began as a trickle of criticism broke into a flood on Tuesday, starting with the party’s endangered incumbents, such as Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Democratic senators argued that Menendez deserves a presumption of innocence, but the severity of the charges meant he can’t be an effective lawmaker any longer.
Perhaps none carried more weight than Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a close ally of Menendez who defended him during his first corruption trial in 2015. “I believe stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving,” Booker said in a statement.
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., went the furthest, promising to endorse a primary challenger against Menendez if he ran for re-election, while warning that the senator’s legal problems could drag down the party.
“It’s not about him, it’s about control of that seat and the Senate and we have our colleagues in tough hard races right now to maintain that majority,” Fetterman told reporters. “This is beyond selfish.”
“The last time there was a guy in New Jersey with this much cash in his house was Tony Soprano,” he added.
While Menendez has come under fire from within his own party, a handful of Republicans offered him rhetorical support Tuesday.
“Senator Menendez has a right to test the government’s evidence in court, just like any other citizen. 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. posted on X, the platform formally known as Twitter. His sentiment was echoed by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (“in America guilt is decided by a jury, not politicians in fear of their party losing a Senate seat”) and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio (“Clearly the guy’s been accused of some pretty crazy stuff ... but we do have innocence until proven guilty here”).
It’s not entirely surprising Republicans would back Menendez’s right to stick around at this moment. Even leaving aside the political headache he’s creating for the Democrats, it would be awkward for Donald Trump’s allies to suggest that merely facing an indictment should disqualify an individual from public office.
Room for Disagreement
As Axios notes, at least one Republican says it may be time for Menendez to go. “If one ounce of what’s in the indictment is true, then yes,” Sen. Mitt Romney. “If not even one ounce is true, then he’ll have to make that decision himself.”