The dam broke open on Tuesday morning as more and more Senate Democrats urged their own colleague, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), to resign.
Notably, three vulnerable Democratic senators were the first ones to call for Menendez to go, a sign that their indicted colleague is already becoming a liability for their 2024 reelection campaigns.
Within the span of an hour, Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) separately released statements saying that Menendez needs to step down as he faces federal corruption charges.
“I’ve read the detailed charges against Senator Menendez and find them deeply disturbing,” Tester tweeted. “While he deserves a fair trial like every other American, I believe Senator Menendez should resign for the sake of the public’s faith in the U.S. Senate.”
Minutes earlier, Baldwin tweeted a similar message about Menendez, who was indicted Friday on charges that he and his wife took bribes ― including $100,000 in gold bars, $480,000 in cash and a Mercedes-Benz ― in exchange for favors that aided an Egyptian American businessman and others.
“The indictment spells out deeply troubling allegations against Senator Menendez that breach the American people’s trust and compromise his ability to effectively represent his constituents,” Baldwin said. “While Senator Menendez enjoys the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and will have his day in court to defend himself, I believe it’s best for his constituents, the American people, and our national security for the Senator to step down.”
Casey issued a statement saying that the allegations against Menendez show that he repeatedly violated the public’s trust.
“While he is entitled to the presumption of innocence, serving in public office is a privilege that demands a higher standard of conduct,” said the Pennsylvania Democrat. “Senator Menendez should resign.”
Tester, Baldwin and Casey kicked off a wave of Democrats urging Menendez to go. As of Wednesday morning, the others were Sens. John Fetterman (Pa.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Jon Ossoff (Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Jacky Rosen (Nev.), who is also up for reelection in 2024.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, also called on Menendez to resign.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-highest leader in the chamber, called on the New Jersey Democrat to go, too.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hasn’t said anything about Menendez beyond praising him for stepping down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee while he’s under indictment. But Menendez only handed over his gavel because Democrats’ own rules required him to.
The fact that the most vulnerable senators were the first to speak out shows that the New Jersey Democrat’s refusal to resign could become a problem for the party. The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Monday issued a statement tying vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2024 to “crooked” Menendez.
“You’d think it would be a no-brainer to say someone who took gold bars from foreign businessmen to rig US foreign policy is unfit to serve in the Senate, but apparently Senate Democrats disagree,” NRSC spokesman Philip Letsou said in the statement. “Democrats have made clear they will tolerate Bob Menendez’s comical levels of corruption as long as he continues to back their extreme agenda.”
Which Democrats did the NRSC single out? Tester, Baldwin, Brown and Casey.
Not everyone is demanding that Menendez resign, though. Some Democrats maintained that he is entitled to a presumption of innocence and a fair trial and shouldn’t be forced out unless he’s been found guilty in court.
“These charges are very, very serious. If they’re true, they’re disqualifying,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters Tuesday evening. “But anybody charged with a crime, from President Trump, Hunter Biden... they’re entitled to argue that the charges aren’t true. Sen. Menendez is entitled to.”
“These are serious charges,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said in a statement. “But as I have always said, everyone is entitled to due process.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) said it’s up to the people of New Jersey to decide whether their senator needs to go.
“As a former prosecutor, I believe he’s entitled to a fair trial. I trust the justice system,” Cortez Masto said. “But it’s for the voters of New Jersey to decide.”