Sen. Bob Menendez will address the Senate Democratic Caucus on Thursday after pleading not guilty Wednesday to bribery charges in federal court.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said during his weekly press availability Wednesday that Menendez would have a chance to address his colleagues, at least 30 of whom have already said he should resign. Schumer did not go that far, saying only he was “deeply disappointed and disturbed” when he read the indictment, which was unsealed Friday.
“For senators there’s a much, much higher standard and clearly when you read the indictment, Sen. Menendez fell way, way below that standard,” Schumer said. “Tomorrow he will address the Democratic caucus and we’ll see what happens after that.”
As he did after an unrelated indictment in 2015 that did not result in his conviction, Menendez has said he is innocent and will not step down. He voted on the Senate floor Tuesday evening, and voted by proxy in committee Wednesday morning for legislation that would allow banks to serve state-legalized cannabis businesses.
Menendez was arraigned Wednesday in the Southern District of New York on charges that he accepted bribes in the form of cash, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz in exchange for using his office to enrich three businessmen who were also indicted, along with Menendez’s wife, Nadine.
The Associated Press reported Menendez was ordered released on a $100,000 bond, and he must surrender any personal passports, but will be allowed to keep an official passport that would allow him to travel outside the U.S. for government business. The judge ordered him not to have any contact with co-defendants except for his wife, nor with Senate staffers who know facts of the case outside of the presence of lawyers.
While Schumer did not join the growing calls for resignation, other senior Democrats did on Wednesday. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the president pro tempore, said he should resign and that if he does not, the Ethics Committee should open an investigation separate from the criminal case against him.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, also called for him to resign, after previously saying that decision should be up to Menendez and the people of New Jersey.
“Could he continue to be effective as a senator is a question in my mind,” Durbin told reporters, adding that New Jersey officials — including Sen. Cory Booker, one of Menendez’s biggest defenders after the 2015 indictment — have overwhelmingly called for his resignation.
[Podcast: Bob Menendez: Born to run under indictment?]
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who faces reelection next year, said Tuesday that if Menendez doesn’t step down, senators will have to continue working with him. Kaine has not called for Menendez to resign.
“These charges are very, very serious,” he said. “If they’re true, they’re disqualifying. But anybody charged with a crime, from President Trump, Hunter Biden or somebody who shows up in Richmond traffic court tomorrow, they’re entitled to argue that the charges aren’t true.”
Menendez did step aside last week from leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a post the indictment says he abused by providing sensitive information to agents for the government of Egypt introduced by his wife and one of his co-defendants.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., officially took over Wednesday as chair.
“I have long said that ‘America is stronger when we speak with one voice on foreign policy issues,’” Cardin said in a statement that did not reference Menendez. “Defining that voice requires active, bipartisan engagement by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and I look forward to working with Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and all our members as the committee tackles the most important challenges facing our nation and the world.”
Menendez’s other committee posts remain in question. Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was unsure when asked if Menendez would forfeit the chairmanship of a banking subcommittee that canceled a scheduled hearing on flood insurance Wednesday. Menendez also serves on the tax-writing Finance Committee, a seat that could be in demand if it became open.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.