Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), facing more calls for his resignation from senior Democrats, will address his party’s Senate caucus on Thursday, and “we’ll see what happens after that,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday, Schumer said Menendez had fallen far short of the ethical standards expected of senators and that he was “deeply disappointed” and “disturbed” when he read Menendez’s indictment on federal bribery charges. But Schumer stopped short of urging Menendez to resign, as more than half of Senate Democrats have now done, including several of the caucus’s other leaders.
“Tomorrow, he will address the Democratic caucus, and we’ll see what happens after that,” Schumer said.
Schumer also moved to replace Menendez as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday by passing a resolution elevating Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to the leadership role by unanimous consent.
The Senate’s second- and third highest-ranking Democrats, Sens. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), have publicly stated that Menendez should step aside. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Senate president pro tempore, said Wednesday that the Senate Ethics Committee should open an investigation if Menendez refuses.
Menendez, 69, and his wife, Nadine Menendez, are accused of accepting bribes — including gold bars and cash — in exchange for asserting political influence to secretly benefit the Egyptian government. Menendez has maintained his innocence since the Justice Department announced the indictment Friday.
Durbin’s call for Menendez to resign reflects a pivot from Sunday, when he refrained from doing so during an interview on CNN.
“The person who is accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and it’s the responsibility of the government to prove that case,” Durbin said in the interview. “I said that about Donald Trump, I’ll say the same thing about Bob Menendez.”
By Wednesday, Durbin’s posture had changed.
“Leaders in New Jersey, including the Governor and my Senate colleague Cory Booker, have made it clear that Sen. Menendez can no longer serve. He should step down,” Durbin wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Thursday’s meeting could have consequences for Menendez if he remains in the chamber.
Asked if Menendez should be excluded from classified briefings, given the nature of the allegations against him, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) didn’t answer directly but said he found the indictment “extremely damning” and looked forward to hearing from Menendez.
‘I’m going to grant him that courtesy, but I expect I’ll have much more to say afterwards,” Warner said.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (Calif.) and Vice Chairman Ted Lieu (Calif.) on Wednesday also joined the chorus of voices calling for Menendez’s resignation.
“It doesn’t bring me or any of us joy to say that he should resign, but he should — for the benefit of the Democratic Party, for the people of New Jersey,” Aguilar told reporters at a news conference. “It’s better that he fights this trial outside the halls of Congress.”
Aguilar, the highest-ranking Latino in the House, also pushed back on Menendez’s framing of the indictment as unfair persecution of a successful Latino politician.
“Latinos face barriers and discrimination across the board in so many categories, including in our justice system. This is not that,” Aguilar said.
Cory Booker, Menendez’s fellow Democratic senator from New Jersey, broke his silence Tuesday with a lengthy statement arguing that Menendez should step aside because “the faith and trust of New Jerseyans as well as those he must work with in order to be effective have been shaken to the core.”
That was followed by a cascade of calls from other Senate Democrats for Menendez’s resignation.
Menendez is up for reelection next year and, before the indictment, had said he planned to run again. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and other Democratic leaders in the state, however, have called for Menendez to resign.
Several Republican senators, including Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), have encouraged Menendez to stay and contended that Democrats are only calling for his resignation because they fear losing a Senate seat in the 2024 elections.
Menendez has remained defiant, saying he does not plan to step down. Asked by reporters Tuesday why he won’t resign, the senator responded: “Because I’m innocent. What’s wrong with you guys?”
Menendez did step down from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the indictment, as required by the Senate Democratic Caucus’s rules.
On Wednesday, he and his wife pleaded not guilty to the charges at their first court appearance in the case.
Menendez has beaten federal corruption allegations before. In 2017, a New Jersey jury could not reach a verdict when the senator was tried on a separate set of corruption charges. Menendez was reelected to the Senate the next year.