Bob Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his position to benefit the Egyptian government, according to the indictment. | Francis Chung/POLITICO
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is stepping down from his influential role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee following a federal indictment on Friday alleging years of bribery alongside his wife.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the move Friday afternoon, saying Menendez “has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved.”
Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in cash, gold, a luxury vehicle and home mortgage payments in exchange for using his position to benefit the Egyptian government, according to the indictment. He was charged alongside his wife, Nadine Menendez, and three other businesspeople.
Menendez, who has chaired the Foreign Relations committee since 2021, is required to step down, according to Senate Democrats’ bylaws. They say that “any member who serves in a leadership position in the Conference who is charged with a felony shall cease to exercise the powers and duties of his or her leadership position.”
The bylaws add that if “charges are subsequently dismissed or reduced to less than a felony,” that member may resume their leadership responsibilities. Conviction of a felony, however, means the member will be permanently removed from their leadership role.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is one of the most consequential panels in Washington but has taken on a high-profile role amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic. Menendez also chaired the position in 2013 and 2014 before Republicans took control of the chamber for the following six years.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who is planning to retire after this current term, is in line to replace him as the top Democrat on the committee. Cardin took over for Menendez in 2015 as ranking member when Menendez originally stepped aside — when he was indicted the first time. Menendez resumed his role as ranking member in the minority in 2018, a year after his trial ended in a hung jury.
On the Hill, Menendez’s indictment poses a potential dilemma for Democrats who’ve ardently defended him over the years — and who’ve used indictments against other politicians as a sign of being unfit for office. His New Jersey colleague Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) has been a particular defender of Menendez, having been mentored by the senior senator before joining him as a colleague in the Senate.
Booker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his reaction to the indictment Friday morning.
To add even more intrigue in the Capitol, Menendez’s son, Rob Menendez, joined the House just last year. He defended his father against “countless detractors.”
“I have unwavering confidence in my father and his dedication to the New Jerseyans who he has relentlessly fought for in his long career as a public servant,” he said in a statement. “I strongly believe in his integrity and his values and look forward to seeing him move past this distraction to continue fighting for our state in the United States Senate.”
The Senate is out of town until Tuesday, at which point Menendez and his colleagues are guaranteed to be peppered with questions over the New Jersey senator’s future in office. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was in the Capitol for a pro forma session Friday, told reporters the indictment outlines “serious accusations” but that she’s still waiting to learn more.
Asked if she plans to speak to Menendez or her colleagues about the indictment, Baldwin responded, “I know we’re going to hear more, even today, I think.”