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Breaking the Menendez Cycle? Senator Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption, But Calls Grow for Resignation

Written by on 28/09/2023


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Can we switch gears right now to talk about what’s happening in Congress? I want to ask you about the growing calls for Senator Bob Menendez to resign, after being indicted with his wife on federal bribery and extortion charges. He was indicted Friday, accused of using his position to increase U.S. assistance to Egypt and to do favors for New Jersey businessmen in exchange for mortgage payments, a luxury car, bars of gold, thousands of dollars in cash — second time in under a decade Menendez has been indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges. He’s now — what? We’re up to something like 30 fellow Democrats, including his fellow Democratic senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker, demanding that he resign. He made his first court appearance on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty. Your piece is “Breaking the Menendez cycle.” Talk about what you mean.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah. So, what happened in 2016, Menendez gets indicted at the end of the Obama administration. He goes to trial. And because the Supreme Court has so defined down public corruption and bribery, that case ends in a mistrial, and the Justice Department ultimately drops the charges. However, it was clear that there was a lot unseemly going on in that first case, very similar in terms of taking trips and getting gifts and things like that in exchange for some actions on behalf of the individual who was alleged to have bribed him.

Despite the fact that the Senate Ethics Committee wrote a report that admonished him, said he failed to disclose these gifts, that violated the law, Democrats allowed Menendez to get back into that ranking position on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he was in a position to help with military aid, with arms sales to the Egyptian government. And literally right after he is restored to that seat, another set of scandals begins. This cycle returns itself as he starts engaging in these activities on behalf of — that certainly helped Egypt, in exchange for all these additional gifts.

What I meant by “breaking the cycle” is the fact that in New Jersey, where it’s kind of a political machine, the machine bosses, most, and now pretty much all, of the leading Democratic politicians there, have rejected Menendez. They’ve said he should resign. Andy Kim, who is a congressman right now, has already signed up to run against him in next June’s Senate primary, because Menendez is up for reelection. And so this is an attempt to break the cycle.

AMY GOODMAN: Also Larry Hamm — Larry Hamm has said that he’s going to run, as well, the well-known New Jersey community activist, head of POP.

DAVID DAYEN: Interesting. So, there is this sort of shunning of Menendez within New Jersey, which is his power base. And so there’s a possibility that this cycle that we see will not recur. But he’s apparently speaking to the heads — to members of the Senate today in their caucus meeting. And it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of that.

AMY GOODMAN: And what this could mean for the balance of the Senate next year if he hangs on.

DAVID DAYEN: Well, certainly, because, you know, in 2018, when he ran against someone who had no money and no name recognition within New Jersey in the primary, he still got only about 60% of the votes. So there’s clearly a large number of people within New Jersey who aren’t that interested in Menendez. And the Democratic Senate arm had to spend about $7 million to ensure that he won the general election.

AMY GOODMAN: David, we only have about a minute to go, and I do want to get to the possible — do you say “probable”? — shutdown and what exactly this means.

DAVID DAYEN: The definite shutdown. It’s going to happen. There’s a solution readily available, 77 votes in the Senate for a clean continuing resolution to fund the government. Kevin McCarthy knows it would get 350, maybe 400, votes in the House, doesn’t want to do it because the small faction of Freedom Caucus members would then try to remove him from the speakership. It’s a dysfunctional situation. And I think that McCarthy is looking for somebody else to solve it other than him, even though he’s the leader in the House. It’s a terrible situation that’s going to affect a lot of federal employees, who aren’t going to get paid and who are going to get furloughed.

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, we want to thank you so much for being with us, executive editor of The American Prospect. His latest book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. We’ll also link to your articles at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.



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