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Senate Majority Leader Schumer Holds Weekly News Conference

What will Schumer do about Menendez?

As of this morning, more than half of the Senate Democratic Caucus has called on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to step down following his federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges.

But the big question hanging over the chamber ahead of the Senate Democratic lunch today is this — what will Chuck Schumer do?

The Senate majority leader, like others, has said Menendez has a right to due process and “rightly decided” to step down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Schumer has refused to go further than that. The Democratic leader is sure to face questions about it at his weekly press conference this afternoon.

Other members of Schumer’s leadership team have said Menendez should resign from the Senate, including Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs Democrats’ campaign arm.

This creates a particularly awkward situation for Democrats if Menendez does indeed run for reelection in 2024. The party typically defends its incumbents, but it’s hard to see that happening now that Peters has called on Menendez to resign. What’s more, Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) has already jumped into the Democratic primary. Other Democrats could follow suit.

“My focus… is to make sure we keep the seats Democrat,” Peters told us. “I continue to be focused on that.”

Of course, the party doesn’t want to be forced to spend money in deep-blue New Jersey in what’s already a difficult cycle. But the politics of it all could be what forces Schumer and other Democratic leaders to shift.

Democrats may also be soon forced to confront the substance behind the charges against Menendez — that he was allegedly taking bribes that benefitted a foreign government seeking policy concessions from the United States.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and said Menendez should resign, told us that there needs to be an investigation into “what Egypt is doing here and what they thought they were getting.”

Murphy has been among those calling on the Biden administration to significantly limit U.S. security assistance for Egypt due to deteriorating human rights conditions in that country. The indictment against Menendez claims that the then-chair of the Foreign Relations Committee was taking bribes in exchange for official actions that aided the Egyptian government.

“[We] have a responsibility to understand whether Egypt was running an illicit influence campaign on the Foreign Relations Committee,” Murphy said. “It’s obviously deeply problematic for our relationship with Egypt if they were operating a very illegal influence campaign directed at members of the Foreign Relations Committee.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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