Menendez Steps Down as Chair of Foreign Relations Committee – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has decided to relinquish his significant position as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after a federal indictment was issued on Friday, accusing him and his wife of years of bribery. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the move Friday afternoon, saying Menendez “has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved.”
According to the indictment, Menendez received substantial bribes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of cash, gold, a high-end vehicle, and assistance with his home mortgage payments in return for leveraging his position to favor the Egyptian government. Charges were filed against him, his spouse Nadine Menendez, and three additional individuals in connection with this case.
Menendez, who has chaired the Foreign Relations committee since 2021, is required to step down, according to Senate Democrats’ bylaws. They say that “any member who serves in a leadership position in the Conference who is charged with a felony shall cease to exercise the powers and duties of his or her leadership position.”
The bylaws add that if “charges are subsequently dismissed or reduced to less than a felony,” that member may resume their leadership responsibilities. If a member is convicted of a felony, it results in their permanent removal from their leadership position. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds significant influence in Washington, and its importance has been further highlighted due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Menendez previously chaired this committee in 2013 and 2014, but the following six years saw Republican control of the chamber. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who intends to retire after his current term, is set to assume the position of the leading Democrat on the committee. Cardin initially succeeded Menendez as the ranking member in 2015 when Menendez temporarily stepped down during his first indictment. Menendez later returned to his role as the ranking member in the minority in 2018, following a hung jury outcome in his trial.
Menendez’s indictment on Capitol Hill presents a possible challenge for Democrats who have consistently supported him over the years, even while utilizing indictments against other politicians as evidence of their unsuitability for office. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, in particular, has been a staunch advocate for Menendez, having been mentored by the senior senator before becoming his colleague in the Senate.
To add even more intrigue in the Capitol, Menendez’s son, Rob Menendez, joined the House just last year. He defended his father against “countless detractors.” “I have unwavering confidence in my father and his dedication to the New Jerseyans who he has relentlessly fought for in his long career as a public servant,” he said in a statement. “I strongly believe in his integrity and his values and look forward to seeing him move past this distraction to continue fighting for our state in the United States Senate.”
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The Senate is not in session until Tuesday, at which time Menendez and his fellow senators are certain to face numerous inquiries regarding the New Jersey senator’s continuation in office. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was in the Capitol for a pro forma session Friday, told reporters the indictment outlines “serious accusations” but that she’s still waiting to learn more. Asked if she plans to speak to Menendez or her colleagues about the indictment, Baldwin responded, “I know we’re going to hear more, even today, I think.”