“Will Senate Dems turn on Bob Menendez?” That question served as the title of Tuesday morning’s edition of Politico Playbook. The question mark wasn’t long for this world: the headline for Playbook’s afternoon newsletter simply stated, “The Senate Dam Breaks For Menendez.”
In the less than eight hours between the two updates, embattled Sen. Bob Menendez’s enemy list had grown substantially. His New Jersey colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, had joined 13 other Senate Democrats to call for his resignation. Other Senate Democrats followed shortly after.
A truth about Washington politics is Republicans are quick to turn on their own (a reporter need merely hand Sen. Mitt Romney a microphone, for example, to hear him condemn a fellow Republican). Democrats, on the other hand, typically exercise greater party discipline. The same holds true today, even with Booker joining his colleagues in twisting the knife on their ailing colleague.
“NJ’s Golden Boy Sets The Bar Higher,” Politico blared, because we’re all to believe Golden Boy was shocked to hear the allegations against the senior senator. This is impossible to square with Menendez’s well-earned reputation, however; even in the public eye, allegations of corruption and whoring have hung low over the senator for more than a decade.
The Daily Caller broke a story in 2012 claiming Menendez was both corrupt and using prostitutes. While federal prosecutors eventually found “corroborating evidence” for the prostitution claims, they didn’t pursue them further, and in 2015 instead decided to charge the Garden State’s senior senator with corruption. Two years later the jury deadlocked, the judge declared a mistrial, and Menendez was acquitted, getting off with a harsh rebuke from the Senate Ethics Committee.
Golden Boy wasn’t so quick to admonish his powerful friend back then, though, choosing instead to donate $40,000 to The Robert Menendez Legal Expense Trust. See, six years ago Menendez was still useful to Booker and his friends.
Hours after the mistrial, The New York Times reported, “every major Democrat power broker in the state quickly endorsed Mr. Menendez for re-election in 2018.” “This is the man that we need in this fight,” Booker declared at Menendez’s re-election rally. Hillary Clinton helped him raise money. Democrats returned him to powerful Senate posts. Those posts, Mother Jones reports, “gave Menendez the power that the Justice Department now alleges he used corruptly.”
“The allegations are hard to reconcile with the person I know,” Booker lamented Tuesday morning. But casual observation showed the world what kind of man Menendez really was.
Those Democrats who worked closely with him? They knew the truth better than most, and they gave him the power to continue. Now, a short year before his next re-election campaign (and with Republicans nearly winning the governorship in ‘22), the tune has changed.
At the climax of “The Departed,” Jack Nicolson’s character denies he’s meaningfully betrayed any of his colleagues.
“I never gave anybody up,” he protests, “who wasn’t going down anyways,”
“I believe,” Booker wrote, “stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving.”