Why Are Democrats Suddenly Willing to Sacrifice Bob Menendez?

News & Politics

Last week, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted on federal bribery charges, and now he faces a growing chorus of Democrats who are calling for him to resign.

Menendez insists that he’s not going anywhere, and at this point, he still has the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey,” Schumer said in a statement. “He has a right to due process and a fair trial.”

Not everyone agrees with Schumer. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called for Menendez’s immediate resignation. “[T]he alleged facts are so serious they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation,” Murphy said in a statement.

Other New Jersey Democrats also called for him to resign, including nearly all of the state’s delegation in the House of Representatives. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) also said Menendez should resign, because “he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations.” Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on the New Jersey senator to step down.

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I have to say, I’m shocked to see so many Democrats lobbying Menendez to resign. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the Democrats over the years, it’s that they are incredibly unified, and, as history has shown with few exceptions, they are notoriously accepting of corrupt and immoral behavior in their caucus.

The late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) killed a woman, and yet he was repeatedly reelected to the U.S. Senate until he died in 2009. Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) prostitution scandal in the 1980s not only failed to result in censure or expulsion from the House but also didn’t stop him from being reelected for decades until his retirement in 2013. Barack Obama was constantly under the cloud of scandal during his presidency, but Democrats and the media never held him accountable for it. Joe Biden faced multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior with women, including sexual assault, when he became the Democratic nominee for president in 2020.

Menendez is no different. He has been tainted by scandal for years but has managed to get reelected repeatedly.

In 2012, Menendez and businessman Salomon Melgen were accused of having sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. His fellow Democrats turned a blind eye to the accusations and the media did its best to discredit them. Federal prosecutors believed Menendez was guilty, but with the help of the Obama Justice Department, he was never charged. He was reelected that year.

Menendez was later indicted on federal corruption charges, and he was once again let off the hook on the underage prostitution charges, despite corroborating evidence. Menendez did face trial for the public corruption charges, but it ended in a mistrial. Despite the seriousness of the allegations against him, he not only was reelected again but was given the powerful position of ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He served as the committee chairman up until last week, when Democrat rules forced him to step aside due to his latest indictment for bribery.

Despite all this, neither the voters in New Jersey nor the Democrats in the Senate ever made Menendez pay for his behavior. So why is this latest indictment different? It can’t be the compelling evidence against him; federal prosecutors were not only convinced Menendez had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, they had corroborating evidence.

Related: Prominent Democrats Starting to Revolt Openly Against Biden as Nominee

The only explanation is the timing. Menendez is up for reelection in 2024 — an election year that is likely to be extremely good for Republicans. New Jersey is a state that not only reelected Chris Christie, a Republican, as governor, but nearly elected a Republican governor last year, too, when Phil Murphy narrowly defeated Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. Under the right conditions, a Republican can win a statewide election in New Jersey. If Menendez does run for reelection again (he has yet to declare officially), it could set just the conditions necessary for Republicans to win in an upset, strengthening and insulating a potential Republican majority in the upper chamber.

So make no mistake about it, Democrats calling on Menendez to resign haven’t suddenly discovered a moral conscience. They’re concerned about their party’s prospects.

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