September 28, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Why the Republicans are staying mostly mum on Menendez
Comments might invite questions about the GOP’s loyalty.
US Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, is under indictment for corruption. He’s going to address the Democratic caucus today. So far, he’s denied calls to step down by 30 Democratic senators (as of this writing). After today’s meeting, however, “we’ll see what happens,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, according to the Post.
Of those 30 Democratic senators asking for his resignation is New Jersey’s junior senator, Cory Booker. He’s joined by that state’s House delegation as well as that state’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy. So have the chair and vice-chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Schumer, Democrat of New York, has so far declined to add his voice, but that’s a consequence of being the party’s Senate leader. He will likely call for Menendez to resign after Menendez has decided to.
What the Democrats are going to do about corruption in their own ranks after spending so much time accusing the Republicans of failing to do anything about corruption in their ranks (eg, a criminal former president) has been the main focus of the Menendez story. That’s understandable, because the Menendez story is getting worse.
In addition to the sordid history of Trump’s various and sundry entanglements with foreign governments, chiefly that of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, there are the present entanglements visible in the impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden that Trump demanded.
The indictment accuses Menendez of using his influence on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secretly benefit the Egyptian government in exchange for bribes. NBC News reported Wednesday that, according to Senate records, Menendez single-handedly blocked a 2020 measure that would have bolstered a federal law regulating foreign influence in Washington. (Menendez stepped aside Friday as chair of the committee, the same day the indictment was announced.)
But there’s another part of the Menendez story that isn’t getting the attention it deserves. After years of the Democrats accusing the Republicans of doing nothing about corruption in their own ranks, you’d think that the Republicans would be in the mood for payback.
That’s not happening, though.
The Republicans seem uniformly mum or offer bromides about due process. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy came closest to calling on Menendez to resign. In short order, however, he changed his mind. “I think George [Santos] could have his day in court, I think Menendez could have a day in court,” McCarthy said, adding that it “could be [Menendez’s] choice what he wants to do,” according to Axios.
George Santos is, of course, that putz from Long Island, a Republican congressman who has lied about everything, especially who he is, and is now, as a consequence of that lying, under indictment for fraud and other assorted crimes. McCarthy has refused to call on him to resign.
So it seems that McCarthy can’t indulge in the payback he’d almost certainly like to indulge in, because indulging in it would bring undesirable attention to why he hasn’t done anything about corruption in his ranks, thus validating the Democratic accusations against him.
There’s another theory. If Menendez resigns, New Jersey’s Democratic governor would replace him with another Democrat, who’d likely go on to win next year’s Senate race. If the Republicans stay mum on Menendez, he might stick around long enough to be beaten by a Republican candidate who’d run an anti-corruption campaign against him. The Senate is evenly divided. Victory might bring control of it.
But that theory runs into the same problem, which is the Republicans’ refusal to do anything about corruption, partly small fry like George Santos but mostly big fish like the criminal former president. If the Menendez story is about an effort by a foreign government (in this case, Egypt) to recruit an intelligence source, as one former CIA operative explained to The Intercept, what’s the Donald Trump story?
In addition to the sordid history of Trump’s various and sundry entanglements with foreign governments, chiefly that of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, there are the present entanglements visible in the impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden that Trump demanded. The core allegation of the GOP’s investigation (the first hearing was today) arises from a conspiracy theory “rooted in Russian disinformation efforts,” according to a supplemental report to a GOP-led Senate investigation in 2020 into then-Vice President Biden’s conduct toward Ukraine.
The conspiracy theory – “that Hunter Biden’s connection with Ukrainian energy company Burisma influenced former Vice President Biden’s actions and US foreign policy” – was debunked during Trump’s first impeachment trial. (He wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in exchange for military aid already allocated by the US Congress, to announce an investigation into Biden on the strength of this conspiracy theory to smear him before the 2020 election.)
“These types of theories were used by Russian intelligence to obscure their interference in the 2016 election, as well as by Republicans to defend President Trump during impeachment proceedings, despite having no basis in fact,” the supplemental report went on to conclude.
With their impeachment, the House Republicans hope to smear Biden before the 2024 election the way Trump fell short of smearing him before the 2020 election. They are reviving a conspiracy theory rooted in a “Russian disinformation effort” to create political conditions by which Ukraine, by way of President Trump, is handed over to Russia.
What began as Trump’s entanglements with a foreign government may end with the House GOP’s entanglement with it. Russia didn’t just recruit one intelligence source. It recruited much of a political party.
McCarthy may have wanted to indulge in payback when asked if Bob Menendez should resign. But he must have known that in doing so, he’d invite more than undesirable attention to his party’s tolerance of corruption. He’d invite questions about the party’s loyalty to America.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.