Menendez, addressing Democratic senators, reiterates he will not resign amid indictment

Over half of Democratic senators have called for Menendez's resignation.

September 28, 2023, 3:18 PM

Sen. Bob Menendez addressed his fellow Democratic senators behind closed doors Thursday -- and vowed he would not back down from his post despite mounting calls for him to resign, according to one senator in the room.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. said Menendez told senators he would "vigorously defend himself."

"He will not resign," Manchin said, reiterating that Menendez explicitly told members he had no intention to step down.

Menendez left the meeting just as defiant as he's been in the days since he was indicted and he entered his not guilty plea. Following the lunch, he was asked whether he's lost the confidence of his fellow Democrats -- over half of whom have called on him to step down.

"I will continue to cast votes on behalf of the people in New Jersey as I have for 18 years," Menendez told reporters. "And I'm sure when they need those votes, they'll be looking forward to me to cast those votes."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who days ago called for Menendez to resign, wouldn't give details about the senator's remarks but said he was unmoved.

"I am certainly not of a different mind now," Blumenthal said.

"It was tough to be in," Sen. Raphael Warnock said of the meeting. "Just the human side, the human tragedy. I'm a pastor and so it's tough to see this kind of thing unfold regardless of what we think you know the Senator is a real human being with family and loved ones and so my families go out to him for the family and loved ones."

Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, leave federal court, Sept. 27, 2023, in New York.
Seth Wenig/AP

Notably, Sen. Chris Coons, the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said he stepped out of the room before Menendez spoke, as did fellow Ethics Committee members Jeanne Shaheen and Brian Schatz.

"As the chairman of the ethics committee, I can't comment on any matter that is or may be before the committee," Coons said. "As a result, I do my best to avoid circumstances where matters that are or may be before the ethics committee may be discussed."

It's not yet clear whether the Senate Ethics Committee will investigate allegations of misconduct against Menendez.

Sen. John Fetterman, the first Democratic senator to call for Menendez's resignation, boycotted the lunch altogether, saying he was disinterested in hearing any more of what Menendez had to say.

"The only honorable exit would be to resign," Fetterman said. "It'll be either a conviction or election."

Upon announcing Menendez's plans to address Democratic senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who stopped short of calling for Menendez's resignation after he pleaded not guilty on bribery and extortion charges, said on Wednesday "we'll see what happens after" the closed-door lunch. Asked directly whether he believed Menendez should resign, he only reiterated that "we will see what happens" after Menendez's address to Democrats.

"Like you, I'm just deeply disappointed. I was disturbed when I read the indictment. I've known Sen. Menendez a very long time and it was truly, truly upsetting," Schumer said. "But we all know that [for] senators, there is a much, much higher standard, and clearly when you read the indictment, Sen. Menendez fell way, way below that standard."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during the Democratic press conference in the Ohio Clock Corridor, following the weekly policy lunch at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, September 19, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Schumer did not go as far as the at least 26 Democratic senators who have called on Menendez to resign.

That group notably includes Menendez's New Jersey Senate colleague Cory Booker. Booker called the allegations against Menendez "hard to reconcile with the person I know," but said he ultimately concluded that Menendez ought to resign his seat in the Senate.

"Stepping down is not an admission of guilty but an acknowledgement that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost," Booker said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is the best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving."

On Monday, Menendez seemed to swipe at those who are using his indictment to forward their political campaigns.

"Remember prosecutors are wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that," Menendez said. "Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to take the opportunity for themselves or those around them."

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for his wielding of political power to enrich three businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides -- and benefit the Egyptian government. Those bribes, according to prosecutors, included gold bars, a luxury convertible car, home mortgage payments and more. Menendez has denied wrongdoing.

Menendez has temporarily stepped away from his role as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amid allegations.

This is the second time Menendez has been charged with corruption. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges.