As I write this Tuesday, 24 Democratic senators, including Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, have called on New Jersey’s Robert Menendez to resign from the Senate and take his pockets full of gold bars with him.
By the time you read this, there will undoubtedly be more Democrats joining in. Even as each senator reliably points out, because it’s required I guess, that Menendez is innocent until proven guilty, they’re all pretty sure he’s guilty as hell. If you read the detailed bribery charges, you’ll understand why.
But interestingly, up to this point, there have been exactly zero Republican senators who have joined in the demand that Menendez give up his seat.
That may seem counterintuitive. Menendez’s alleged crimes — including bundles of cash found hidden in the senator’s clothing — should be an easy attack line for Republicans to use against Democrats, who, we’re constantly told, are hip deep in swampy corruption. And those charges usually come without benefit of any evidence whatsoever. (See: impeachment; Biden, Joe.)
Here is evidence. Lots of it. In Menendez’s closet. In his driveway. In his wife’s safety deposit box. It’s a lot, even by New Jersey standards.
So why have Republicans been so slow to react? I’d understand if they were all from Colorado. I mean, who isn’t still in shock from the Sunday disaster in Miami? But last I looked, the main people anyone in Colorado wants to dump are Vance Joseph, Sean Payton and Russell Wilson.
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The slow reaction is not, I’m pretty sure, because most Republicans are too busy worrying about whether windmills are driving whales “a little batty” and thereby causing the behemoths to beach themselves, even though Donald Trump made that very charge at a campaign rally in South Carolina.
We know Trump has it in for wind turbines and wind energy. You may remember that prior to Trump’s plea to save the whales, he attempted to make the even more ridiculous case that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer. Many Republicans, even some of those afraid to criticize Trump, even some of those deeply in the pocket of big oil, have not endorsed either Trumpian view of wind power.
It could be, though, that they’re too worried about the likely government shutdown, which, according to the old calendar on my iPad, would be only days away. Meanwhile, Speaker-for-now Kevin McCarthy is trying to, uh, bribe (OK, not literally) the handful of House crazies, those who seem to be actively rooting for a shutdown, to keep the government open for at least a couple weeks more.
According to a Washington Post story, this is what the, uh, bribe consists of: Cutting housing subsidies for the poor by 33%, reducing home-heating assistance by 70% with winter approaching, forcing more than a million women and kids to get on a waitlist for food assistance.
What could be more tempting than cutting stuff for poor people, right?
Look, it’s not as if Democrats have clean hands on Menendez. Years ago, he faced similar charges and somehow avoided being found guilty. And the Democrats stuck with him.
But with Menendez up for re-election next year and Menendez refusing so far to even consider resigning, it could cost the Democrats what is an otherwise safe Senate seat in a deep blue state.
It took most Democrats five days or so to weigh in on Menendez, hoping he would just go away before they had to say anything. But now it’s in the Democrats’ clear interest to get him to resign. It has the added benefit of being the right thing to do.
Democrats with potentially vulnerable seats, along with a group of progressives, were among the first to call for Menendez to resign. And when Sen. Cory Booker, who has called his fellow New Jersey Democrat a mentor, said Tuesday that Menendez had to go, it gave others in the party permission to follow.
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For Republicans, though, there’s more than simply an added benefit, although I assume that’s the main driver. They want to face Menendez next November. And why wouldn’t they?
But there’s also this:
How do you call for the just-indicted Menendez to resign from office when a certain Republican leader has been indicted four times? How do you call out Menendez for corruption when a judge has just ruled that Trump is guilty of fraud? And how do you call Menendez out when approximately half of Republican voters tell pollsters they want Trump to win the nomination and run again for the White House?
It’s not just that it would be hypocritical to single out Menendez when Trump holds the modern-day political record for indictments. Many politicians manage to overcome the hypocrisy issue on a regular basis.
But doing so makes you look, well, not extremely bright.
Here’s an example. Speaker-for-now McCarthy, who is strongly allied with Trump, did say that Menendez should resign. McCarthy rightly pointed out that the charges against Menendez are “very damaging” and that the case against him “seems pretty black and white.”
But McCarthy must have forgotten not only about Trump, but that he had said he wouldn’t call for serial liar George Santos, Republican of New York, to resign. That was after Santos was indicted on charges that seem pretty black and white to me.
But with such a slight majority in the House, McCarthy can’t afford to lose even one seat. And so Santos will stay at least until he faces trial.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, understood the politics involved and said voters should decide on Menendez and not “Democratic politicians who now view him as inconvenient to their hold on power.”
I hope that Fox News’ Dana Perino, who’s moderating the Republican debate Wednesday night, asks the candidates about Menendez. I wonder if any of them, other than former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, would have the nerve to call for Menendez to resign, assuming the follow-up question would be about Trump.
Trump won’t be there to answer, of course, since he refuses to debate his, uh, rivals. During the debate, he’ll be in Michigan, of all places, addressing former and current union members about the United Auto Workers strike. Joe Biden beat him there by a day and joined the picket lines.
I don’t think you’ll see Trump walking the lines, but you can be sure he will blame Biden, as many in the union do, for aggressively pushing electric cars. For all I know, Trump might also blame electric cars for the beached whales. It’s one charge that Menendez isn’t facing. So far.
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