Scandal-fatigued New Jersey Democrats sticking with Menendez — for now

Publicly, Democrats in Menendez’s dwelling state are rallying round their senior senator as particulars of the newest investigation start to emerge: Federal investigators are focusing on a New Jersey company that was awarded exclusive rights to export halal meat to Egypt, The New York Occasions reported. Any connection to Menendez stays unclear.

Privately, it’s a unique story.

Some New Jersey Democrats are expressing deep frustration the 68-year-old, three-term senator might as soon as once more be beneath an moral cloud. Most think about Menendez an efficient senator, however some are starting to imagine his authorized troubles threaten to outweigh that. Others refuse to deal with the query altogether, insisting they’re too targeted on Tuesday’s midterm election to fret about it.

Menendez, who rose from the cauldron of city Hudson County Democratic machine politics to turn out to be chair of the highly effective Senate Overseas Relations Committee, has acknowledged the investigation however mentioned he doesn’t know its scope.

“Senator Menendez is all the time in contact with constituents and governmental, political and neighborhood leaders all through New Jersey. His tireless advocacy on behalf of the state is supported by these relationships and has earned him an extended and deep reservoir of fine will,” Michael Soliman, a spokesperson for Menendez, mentioned in an emailed assertion.

Soliman mentioned Menendez intends to hunt reelection in 2024.

Democrats had been caught off guard by Menendez’s weak spot within the 2018 main, when Lisa McCormick, a nearly unknown candidate with no important marketing campaign infrastructure or cash, bought 38 % of the vote regardless of the senator’s big structural benefits. The outcomes had been learn as a protest vote in opposition to the senator.

For now, the one factor on public show by New Jersey’s high Democrats is loyalty and fealty to Menendez, a strong determine who has been open about his willingness to punish Democrats disloyal to him.

“To those that had been digging my political grave so they may soar into my seat, I do know who you might be, and I received’t neglect you,” Menendez said outside of the federal courthouse in Newark in 2017, after he beat corruption charges.

Menendez’s affect in native politics is so robust that his son, Robert J. Menendez, is poised to take over the U.S. Home seat his father occupied earlier than being elevated to the Senate. The youthful Menendez simply received the Democratic nomination to interchange the retiring Rep. Albio Sires and is nearly assured of successful his election subsequent week within the solidly Democratic district of North Jersey, simply throughout the Hudson River from Manhattan. The district contains a number of the most city areas of New Jersey, together with components of Newark, Jersey Metropolis and Elizabeth.

“I assist him one hundred pc,” Hudson County Democratic Chair Anthony Vainieri Jr. mentioned in a cellphone interview when requested concerning the newest investigation of the senator. “No touch upon this story. I’m not going to become involved on this, OK?”

Throughout a press convention commemorating the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating landfall in New Jersey — an occasion that passed off simply days after Menendez’s newest scandal started to publicly emerge — Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) described Menendez as “my colleague, my good friend, my brother within the Senate [and] my rock.”

“Bob Menendez was really one in every of New Jersey’s nice heroes at the moment of the storm 10 years in the past,” he mentioned.

On the similar press convention, Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat, thanked Menendez for “gathering the billions of {dollars} we wanted to get again on our ft.”

“Nobody comes shut,” he mentioned.

Throughout a radio interview Monday night, Murphy described Menendez as an “extremely useful and vital accomplice,” with out commenting straight on the investigation.

However at the least one activist on the occasion’s left flank is voicing criticism publicly.

Sue Altman, government director of the New Jersey Working Households Alliance, mentioned the Menendez information threatens to dampen Democratic enthusiasm and volunteer recruitment for canvassing.

“It’s a window into the ugliness of New Jersey politics, Hudson County politics. Menendez is a product of this stuff,” Altman mentioned in an interview. “General, it’s a model downside for the Democrats. Tales like this affirm peoples’ priors that Democrats are corrupt. We have to take steps in New Jersey to be sure that is not the case.”

Menendez received his first election to a full time period in 2006 despite a federal probe by then-New Jersey U.S. Lawyer Chris Christie right into a nonprofit that rented area from him whereas he helped it safe grants. No fees had been ever filed and Menendez, who denied any wrongdoing, received a letter from federal officials in 2011 saying the investigation had been closed.

In 2015, after Menendez was indicted on federal bribery fees for allegedly doing political favors for a good friend and political donor, Booker was one of many first New Jersey Democrats to publicly declare assist for him.

“I received’t waver in my dedication to face alongside my senior senator to serve our nice state,” Booker mentioned on the time. He was adopted by nearly each different distinguished New Jersey Democrat.

Menendez beat these fees in 2017 after a prolonged trial, because of a hung jury through which 10 of 12 jurors wished to search out him not responsible on most fees.

Throughout a courthouse speech after his trial’s impasse, Menendez decried prosecutors who “couldn’t perceive or, even worse, settle for that the Latino child from Union Metropolis and Hudson County might develop as much as be a United State senator and be trustworthy.”

His reelection in 2018 coincided with a Democratic wave that helped propel him to a cushty 11-point victory over Republican Bob Hugin, who’s now chair of the state Republican Social gathering and who spent tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in opposition to him.

Loads has modified since then, and with it, Democrats’ political calculations.

Most significantly, Murphy is governor till January 2026. Had Menendez resigned or been compelled to go away workplace in the course of the earlier scandal, Christie, a Republican who was then governor, would have appointed an interim alternative — presumably a member of the GOP. That prospect alone gave Democrats an enormous incentive to stay with Menendez.

Since then, New Jersey Democrats have developed a deeper bench of bold elected officers, a few of whom are already positioning themselves to run for governor in 2025 since Murphy is term-limited.

New Jersey’s Democratic politics are sometimes decided by a number of energy brokers forging an settlement forward of the first, and the state’s regional political bosses would seemingly salivate on the potential offers to be reduce on who would get the occasion’s nod for senator and who would get assist for governor ought to Menendez step apart.

To date, a lot of the hypothesis amongst insiders as potential Menendez replacements has targeted on Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Mikie Sherrill and Donald Norcross and Jersey Metropolis Mayor Steve Fulop. There’s even been hypothesis, maybe far-fetched, that Murphy might appoint himself to the seat.

“I wouldn’t fear about it. Not at this level. It’s method too early for anyone to attempt to soar within the man’s grave,” former state Senate President Steve Sweeney mentioned in an interview.

“He’s been an incredible senator and does a extremely good job as chair of the Senate Overseas Relations Committee,” mentioned Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer, who leads the occasion in a once-solidly Republican suburban county that shifted Democratic within the Trump period.. “It looks like a part of what occurs while you serve in workplace on this state, particularly while you come out of Hudson County, you’re going to be topic to investigations again and again.”

She added: “Simply understanding the person, I don’t suppose there’s any credibility to it.”

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