June 07, 2016
As New Jersey voters took to their respective polling stations on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) unleashed on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a cautionary speech on the Senate floor.
Evaluating Trump's candidacy as a whole, Menendez specifically targeted the controversial portrayal of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over two class-action lawsuits related to the marketing tactics used to enroll students at the defunct Trump University.
Trump has claimed, repeatedly, that Curiel's role represents an "inherent conflict of interest" because his Mexican heritage clashes, in principle, with Trump's desire to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. Curiel, a U.S. citizen born in Indiana, has pushed the trial date back to the end of November to avoid interference with Trump's presidential campaign.
"The road to some of the darkest moments in history has been paved with the rants of petty demagogues against ethnic minorities for centuries, and Donald Trump is echoing those same racist rants, threatening to take this nation to a dangerous place," said Menendez, whose family descends from Cuba. "To ask that Judge Curiel recuse himself from a case because of where his parents were born is on its face racist."
Further complicating Trump's position on the case is his assertion, shared by supporters and surrogates, that Curiel is a member of a radical pro-immigrant group. This has since been debunked. While Curial belongs to a San Diego-based affiliate of the nonprofit California La Raza Lawyers Association, the group has no substantive ties to the hardline Hispanic civil rights group National Council of La Raza ("The Race"), an immigration reform movement advocating for a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
On Tuesday, Trump issued a statement reiterating his belief that the lack of a summary judgment in the Trump University lawsuits — a relatively uncommon ruling — suggests he is receiving an unfair trial.
"It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage," Trump said. "I do not feel that one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial."
Yet Trump has also said that the partiality of a theoretical Muslim judge would also be uncertain because of his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country.
"It's him! It's them! It's those people!" Menendez said, mocking Trump. "He isn't American. He doesn't have a birth certificate. He's a Muslim. It's all of them. He's a Mexican judge, and I want to build a wall, so he's being unfair to me. That attitude may be childish and pathetic in a school yard bully, but in an American president, in a Commander-in-Chief to be, it's downright dangerous."
Menendez went on to chide holdout Republicans who haven't yet denounced Trump's positions, arguing Tuesday that some of his colleagues have put partisan politics ahead of this country.
"This is how a new McCarthyism comes to America," he said. "The fact is leaders don't turn people against each other. They bring them together in common cause. Mr. Trump needs to learn that there is not always someone else to blame for defeat. The fact that you lost doesn't imply unfairness. It only indicates that you lost. And he should get used it."
Menendez, it should be noted, remains tied up in a federal corruption case in which he stands accused of providing political favors to a Florida eye doctor and friend in exchange for trips, gifts and campaign cash. He has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing as court proceedings morph into a Constitutional tug-of-war.