New Jersey senator Menendez rejects calls from fellow Democrats to resign

<span>Photograph: Mel Evans/AP</span>
Photograph: Mel Evans/AP

Several Democrats including his own state governor are calling on their fellow party member Robert Menendez to resign after federal authorities charged the New Jersey US senator and his wife with accepting bribes. However, the defiant senator has rejected those claims and is refusing to step down.

Authorities on Friday revealed charges alleging that Robert and Nadine Menendez illegally accepted gold bars, cash, a luxurious Mercedes-Benz car and other gifts in exchange for favors benefiting three businessmen as well as influencing the Egyptian government.

Related: US senator Robert Menendez and wife charged with bribery offenses

In response, the Democratic congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota told CNN he was deeply disappointed in Menendez and that the senator needed to resign. Phillips said that was his position despite his belief that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Yes, I am a Democrat and so is Senator Menendez, but based on what I have seen, I am disappointed and yes, I think he should resign,” Phillips said.

He continued: “I’m appalled. Anybody who pays attention – I don’t care [about] your politics, Democrat or Republican, you should be appalled.

“A member of Congress who appears to have broken the law is someone who I should believe should resign.”

Phillips went on to invoke the case of George Santos, the Republican congressman who has pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of fraud, money laundering and theft of public funds.

“I think George Santos should have resigned already,” he said. “Sadly, our House ethics process, and I would argue the Senate as well, is not as proficient as it needs to be so we have to rely on the judicial system, but I’m really disappointed.”

Menendez rejected calls to resign and plans to refute the claims of bribery and corruption, according to NBC News. “Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty. I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I’ve had for the past five decades,” Menendez said in the statement.

“This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along. It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere,” he added.

In response to a question on whether Democratic leaders in Congress should lean on Menendez to resign and push him out, Phillips replied: “Look, I am trying to restore faith in government.

“That’s one of my missions. It’s a lot of my colleagues’ missions, and sometimes we have to walk that talk, even if it’s uncomfortable. And I would argue that this time, yes, the answer is absolutely.”

The New Jersey representative Andy Kim, a Democrat, also called on Menendez to resign. The New Jersey Globe quoted Kim as saying: “These allegations are serious and alarming. It doesn’t matter what your job title is or your politics – no one in America is above the law.

“The people of New Jersey absolutely need to know the truth of what happened, and I hope the judicial system works thoroughly and quickly to bring this truth to light.”

He added: “In the meantime, I don’t have confidence that the senator has the ability to properly focus on our state and its people while addressing such a significant legal matter. He should step down.”

Unsurprisingly, New Jersey’s Republican state committee joined Phillips and Kim in calling for Menendez to step down. The statement said Menendez’s “legal woes [were] an embarrassing distraction”.

“For the good of the people of this state, who deserve full and devoted representation, we call on … Robert Menendez to resign,” the statement added.

In New Jersey, if there is a vacancy in the US Senate, that seat gets filled by a gubernatorial appointment before a special election is held to replace the appointee. Should Menendez leave office, his vacancy would be filled by the state’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, a reality that perhaps makes it less uncomfortable for Phillips and Kim to insist on their fellow party member’s resignation.

Murphy himself also called for Menendez to resign in a statement issued on Friday.

“The allegations in the indictment … are deeply disturbing,” the statement said. “These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

In recent months, Democrats have not only called on Santos to be removed from Congress – they have also demanded that Donald Trump not run for a second term as president as he grapples with more than 90 criminal charges across four separate indictments.

House Democrats introduced a resolution to expel the indicted Santos from Congress in May, but Republicans successfully sidestepped the maneuver.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Democratic US senator Tim Kaine said earlier this month that he believed there was a “powerful argument” to be made that Trump could be disqualified from running in the 2024 presidential election under the 14th amendment of the constitution. That amendment bars anyone who has taken an oath to support the constitution and has “engaged in insurrection” against the US from holding any civil, military or elected office without approval from two-thirds of both the House and Senate.

Trump’s charges include ones in connection with the 6 January 2021 attack on Congress staged by his supporters after he lost the previous year’s presidential election to Joe Biden.

Other liberals as well as prominent legal scholars across the country have echoed that argument.