Embattled U.S. Senator Bob Menendez left a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats today insisting that he will remain on the job despite calls for his resignation over federal charges he accepted bribes.
“I will continue to cast votes on behalf of the people in New Jersey as I have for 18 years and I am sure when they need those votes, there’ll be looking forward for me to cast those votes,” said Menendez after he addressed his colleagues for about 15 minutes during an hour-long meeting.
Menendez stepped down temporarily from his position as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Friday after he was indicted by New York’s southern district on a set of explosive and detailed charges.
These included accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes as well as gold bars, payments towards his mortgage, and gifts including a luxury car, in exchange for using his influence and breaching his duties “in ways that benefited the government of Egypt”, while bolstering a halal meat certification business based in his New Jersey district linked to the Egyptian state.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin repeatedly told reporters that Menendez conveyed during that meeting that he would not resign, and Manchin said no senators posed any questions to the 69-year-old lawmaker.
Menendez did not address whether he would run for reelection or take questions, Manchin said.
“I think what we all really have to realize is the rule of law is for all of us. No matter what you may think, no matter what I may think or any of us may think,” Manchin said. “He is going to vigorously defend himself.”
Sen. John Fetterman said that he would support a resolution to expel Menendez from Congress but such a measure would need 67 Senate votes to succeed.
Fetterman also said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer should call on Menendez to step down from office after federal prosecutors accused the New Jersey lawmaker Friday of bribery, fraud, and extortion.
Fetterman was the first Senate Democrat to call on Menendez to resign. Now the number has grown to more than half the Democratic caucus.
The Pennsylvania senator said he did not attend the closed-door meeting when Menendez spoke to the Senate Democratic caucus because he isn’t interested in hearing the embattled lawmaker try to explain away or deflect the serious felony accusations.
Most of the Democratic senators leaving the meeting refused to comment to reporters. However, a few who have already called for him to step aside said Menendez was not persuasive.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters that he does not anticipate speaking to Menendez one-on-one about the situation.
“Certainly, I’m not of a different mind now,” Blumenthal said.
Other lawmakers hinted that Menendez’s address was a somber affair for senators who were present. When asked if he was happy with the three-term senator’s explanation for the federal bribery and corruption charges he faces, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said he doesn’t think “there’s anything happy about his situation.”
“It was tough to be in there,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) told reporters. “It’s tough to see this kind of thing unfold.”
One group of senators who were not present were those who sit on the Senate Ethics Committee, including Sen. Chris Coons, the panel’s chairman. Members typically remove themselves from matters that may come before the committee in the future.
Menendez has temporarily stepped down from his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was replaced by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.