The case against Sen. Bob Menendez has gone to the jury, who will soon decide if the Democratic senator is guilty or innocent of the 14 counts of corruption charges he faces. If convicted, Menendez could be spending a lot of time in jail, but he may not resign from office.
Prosecutors say the Democratic senator used his office to provide favors to a deep-pocketed benefactor and co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was convicted of Medicaid fraud earlier this year. Menendez allegedly used his office to intervene in the aforementioned fraud investigation and lobbied the State Department to get visas for his married friend’s mistresses. Subsequently, he received free trips aboard a private jet and luxury vacations at an exclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. Menendez’s wealthy friend also donated $300,000 to his re-election efforts and just six days later Menendez allegedly tried to get the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to drop its investigation into Melgen’s fraudulent behavior.
If convicted, 84 percent of Menendez’s constituents want their senator to step down from office, according to a USA Today poll. In a closely divided Senate, every vote counts, which may be why Democrats are staying quiet about their colleague’s corruption charges. The Federalist contacted every Democratic senator in office and asked if Menendez should resign if he is found guilty. Not a single one said yes.
Republicans may try to force Menendez to leave if the jury convicts him, but Senate rules stipulate that a two-thirds majority is required to expel a member from Congress, which means they will need Democratic support. Even putting it to a vote if Melgen is convicted, however, would force Democrats to defend keeping in office a colleague convicted of corruption. If Menendez’s office is vacated in time, Republican Gov. Chris Christie could select his replacement. If that happens, it’s likely the New Jersey governor would select a Republican to fill the vacancy — a move that would affect the U.S. Senate’s partisan composition.
If Menendez’s seat is vacated after Christie leaves office, the new governor would select his predecessor. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy is leading in the polls. If elected, Murphy would likely chose a Democrat to fill Menendez’s shoes, giving Democrats have an incentive to drag out the process in order to ensure the seat remains Democratic.