The newest indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), which accuses him of being a foreign agent of Egypt, is creating another headache for Senate Democrats.
Prosecutors unveiled the latest indictment only weeks after initially charging Menendez last month with accepting bribes to benefit three New Jersey businessmen and aid the Egyptian government.
But the new — and more serious — charges are heaping trouble on Senate Democrats as Menendez maintains his innocence and refuses to step down from his seat despite pleas from colleagues.
“These are rolling, devastating allegations,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters, adding that his opinion that Menendez should resign “hasn’t changed. “It’s better for the Senate and the state of New Jersey if somebody else gets the chance to do that job and represent the state.”
Many other Senate Democrats offered similar reactions to the latest charges, but it’s not clear whether anything will change since the initial outcry over his first indictment.
More than half of the Senate Democratic Caucus called on Menendez to step down in the days following the bribery and corruption allegations by prosecutors last month, including his fellow Garden State Democrat, Cory Booker, along with most of the Senate Democratic leadership team.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — the only member of that leadership team who hasn’t called for Menendez’s resignation — ignored a question on that subject during his weekly press conference Tuesday, saying only that the New Jersey Democrat will not attend the all-senators classified briefing Wednesday on the situation in Israel and Gaza.
Absent Schumer adding his name to the pro-resignation crowd, there is also no movement toward an expulsion vote. One Senate Democrat said Menendez’s situation was not brought up during Tuesday’s caucus-wide lunch.
“More than half of the caucus has spoken on this. I’m not sure what additional action can be taken,” a second Senate Democrat told The Hill.
Thus far, only one Senate Democrat has called for an expulsion vote to take place and say they would vote to expel Menendez: Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who lit the fuse of what has quickly become a nasty back-and-forth with Menendez over his future.
The two senators also got into an in-person tiff as they rode the escalator in opposite directions to the Capitol from the Senate subway area Tuesday morning. According to sources, Fetterman told Menendez that Tuesday would be a great day to resign.
Menendez reacted, telling Fetterman that he is hanging onto this issue too closely, echoing a line he told HuffPost a night earlier. Fetterman mockingly responded that he is “consumed” by Menendez’s indictment.
Throughout the rest of the day, Fetterman approached multiple reporters individually, including one from The Hill, with a line that he eventually posted on X, criticizing the prospect of Menendez attending the classified briefing on Israel.
“I’m going to continue bringing it up again and again and again,” Fetterman said.
Despite Fetterman’s crusade for an expulsion vote, no one else has joined in publicly. Some senators have indicated that they want to wait until a court or the Senate Ethics Committee decides one way or another on Menendez’s situation.
“To have him expelled without due process, to me, is problematic,” Booker said. “Everybody should have due process, and he’s deserving of a presumption of innocence.”
“You’re asking a person that’s served with this guy for 10 years,” Booker said when asked if he is comfortable serving with someone charged with acting as a foreign agent. “Everything about this makes me feel uncomfortable. Having to call for his resignation makes me feel uncomfortable. This is a very difficult and very personal thing, obviously, for me.”
Menendez has vocally proclaimed his innocence on the latest charge, saying in a statement last week that it “flies in the face of my long record of standing up for human rights and democracy in Egypt.”
“I have been, throughout my life, loyal to only one country — the United States of America, the land my family chose to live in democracy and freedom. Piling new charge upon new charge does not make the allegations true. The facts haven’t changed, only a new charge,” Menendez said in a statement. “It is an attempt to wear someone down and I will not succumb to this tactic.”
“I again ask people who know me and my record to give me the chance to present my defense and show my innocence,” he added.
The superseding indictment doesn’t seem to be pushing Senate Democrats who have yet to call for him to step aside into the pro-resignation camp. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill that Menendez “deserves an opportunity to explain himself to the caucus.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the latest charge “couldn’t be more serious” but added that he does not plan to make any calls for him to step aside.
“I thought the removal of him as [chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] was important,” Kaine told The Hill. “But I have not gone beyond that, and I’m not prepared to go beyond that today.”
Alexander Bolton contributed.