US Senator Robert Menendez stepped down from his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee following an indictment for corruption Friday, but continues to resists calls to step down as a senator. New Jersey’s senior senator, among the most powerful Democrats in the US Senate, commanded an extremely influential position as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, influence he may have used for his financial benefit with regard to the Egyptian government.
The rules state that if a committee chair is charged with a felony crime, then that Senator must step down from the leadership role. Menendez could, theoretically, find himself back in the committee’s captain-chair if he survives this latest, massive political fallout.
According to reports, it seems likely that the successor to Menendez’s chairmanship on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be Democratic Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland as the next-most senior senator on the committee. Another possible successor for filling Menendez’s role is New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Menendez remains a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even if he no longer serves as the chairman. Currently, he faces calls to resign from powerful Democrats, including State Chairman LeRoy Jones, Governor Phil Murphy, and fellow federal figures like Congressman Bill Pascrell and Congressman Donald Norcross. U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman did not immediately call for his resignation, but she said she hoped he would “make the right decision” in the best interests of the people of New Jersey. Somerset County Chairwoman Peg Schaffer released a statement in support of her personal friend, Menendez, but also entreated him—in the gentlest of terms—to consider the political reality facing the country. “The 2024 Senate map is too difficult without adding a competitive race in New Jersey,” Schaffer said. “All Democrats face difficult races next year, and doing so with a court case and preparation will make it even more difficult. We cannot risk losing this Senate seat, and for the good of the Country he loves and has served so well, I ask my friend Bob Menendez to step aside and allow someone else to carry the Democratic flag in 2024.”
As Menendez repeats a past phrase, that there are people attempting to dig his “political grave,” U.S. Rep. Andy Kim announced he would seek the Democratic nomination to replace Menendez and leave the Houe for the Senate. Political observers can doubtless expect to see a political frenzy on the left-side of the aisle as Democrats look to reorient their position, consolidate the political fallout, manage inevitable attacks from the Republicans, and find a suitable successor to the Hudson County kingpin in the days to come.
Menendez’s indictment comes at a time of particularly sensitive matters regarding foreign policy, where many House Republicans are split between those looking to continue to support Ukraine in its efforts to oust the Russian invasion, and those no longer willing to send US treasure to Kyiv and fight the bear. While Democrats—and most mainstream Republicans–overwhelmingly support President Biden’s commitment to support Ukraine and defend the sovereignty of that nation against one of America’s greatest rivals and threats—now second only to China—Republican turmoil lends uncertainty to western powers as well as commanders in Ukraine as to whether or not they can continue to rely on the United States’ support in the days ahead. President Zelenskyy visited Washington DC but received a less friendly reception from the Congress than last time, before moving on to meet with Canadian officials. With the coming winter, military operations are expected to slow, and combat will enter a slogging phase as nature becomes an enemy as much as bullets and drones. To ensure a sound defense ahead of spring operations next year, American and European support is critical for Ukraine. Senator Menendez’s fall inevitably represents a further crack in the confidence of the American foreign policy apparatus, even if it does not necessarily constitute an ideological shift within the Democratic Party with respect to its commitment to Ukraine.