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September 26, 2023

More lawmakers, including Cory Booker, are calling for Bob Menendez to resign from the Senate – but he's refusing

The New Jersey Democrat is facing his second set of federal corruption charges since 2015. He has accused his colleagues of rushing to judgment despite having 'limited' facts

Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Casey joined the growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers calling for the resignation of Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday. 

Menendez, the senior Democratic senator from New Jersey, was indicted Friday for allegedly accepting bribes. When the news broke, other members of Congress initially were reluctant to condemn him. Several congressional members from New Jersey emphasized that Menendez is innocence until proven guilty. Only Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell urged him to leave office, as did Gov. Phil Murphy.

Pennsylvania's John Fetterman became the first Democratic senator to call for Menendez's resignation on Saturday, the same day as U.S. Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Donald Norcross, both Democrats from New Jersey. Another congressman, Andy Kim, took it a step further by announcing plans to run against Menendez in 2024. 

But many prominent politicians — including Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey — stayed quiet over the weekend and on Monday as Menendez refused to resign, decrying the corruption charges as false. That changed Tuesday morning, as Booker and Casey, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, called on their embattled colleague to step down.

"As Sen. Menendez prepares to mount his legal defense, he has stated that he will not resign," Booker said in a statement. "Sen. 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. Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost. Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is best for those Sen. Menendez has spent his life serving."

Casey similarly called public office a "privilege that demands a higher standard of conduct."

Menendez and his wife Nadine allegedly accepted gold bars, cash, mortgage payments and a luxury car from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for political influence, according to the indictment. Those men include Fred Daibes, an Edgewater real estate investor who pled guilty to bank fraud last year, and Jose Uribe, a former insurance broker who lost his license after being convicted of fraud in New Jersey. The third alleged conspirator is Wael Hana, a U.S. citizen born in Egypt who runs a halal meat certification company in New Jersey. In 2020, that company received exclusive authorization from the Egyptian government to certify halal products imported into the U.S., despite Hana's apparent lack of experience in the industry.

Federal prosecutors also charged Menendez, who chairs the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, with secretly aiding the Egyptian government. In a press conference Monday, Menendez declared his innocence. 

"To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution to be as salacious as possible," he told reporters. "Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that."

The indictment marks the second time the senator has been charged with corruption. In 2015, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey alleged that Menendez had accepted more than $600,000 in bribes from an ophthalmologist in Florida in exchange for political favors. After the trial initially ended in a hung jury, a judge acquitted Menendez of some charges and the remaining ones were dropped.

If Menendez resigns, Kim isn't the only congressman expected to run for his seat. Jeff Van Drew, a Republican representing southern New Jersey, is also considering a run, although he will face an uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state. 

Disclosure: U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross is the uncle of PhillyVoice founder and chairwoman Lexie Norcross.

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