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TPM Reader RS chimes in on the senior Senator from New Jersey …

In watching the different reactions of NJ politicians and Senate Democrats to Sen. Mendendez’s indictment, I’m struck by another juxtaposition: the different responses of Senate Democrats to Sen. Menendez and former Sen. Franken.

I have never been particularly concerned with the pressure that was placed on Sen. Franken to resign (and think that Sen. Gillibrand has gotten a bit of a bum rap for her role in the process that probably affected her Presidential campaign in 2020, unlikely as it was to succeed in the first place).  But I can’t help but wonder if the Democrats haven’t created a situation where getting indicted is what helps a Senator keep his or her seat at least in the short-term — because colleagues will point to due process, the presumption of innocence, etc. — whereas non-criminal allegations of impropriety are in a way more serious because they “have to” be dealt with by the Senate.

I’m not arguing that one of them was more wrong than the other — sexual harassment is relatively incommensurate with bribery.  But there seems to be a double standard at work, and one that I don’t think reflects well on the Senate or the Democratic Party that enables it.

You can be presumed innocent and take your case to a jury.  But when your indictment includes a picture of gold bars found in your home, perhaps you don’t belong in the U.S. Senate, particularly when there’s a co-partisan governor who will appoint your replacement.  After all, in the *best* case, if you’ve been wrongfully accused, you’re going to be distracted by your legal defense.

New Jersey residents (and in this era of national partisan polarization, Democrats nationwide) deserve better, and can’t afford the distraction of having to defend Sen. Menendez throughout the “most important election of our lives.”

He can, I hope, keep his Golden Duke eligibility even if he ultimately does the right thing and steps down. 🙂

I’ll say that as a general matter, if we really believe in innocence till proven guilty, there’s a pretty strong argument in favor of not having to give up your job and really your whole career while you’re trying to vindicate your innocence. That said, Menendez’s charges come with a context and not a good one. He had a bad rep when he was elevated to the Senate. This is his second federal felony indictment – the first one ended in a mistrial, not an acquittal. Looking at the evidence (admittedly not yet submitted to defense scrutiny) it seems reasonable to ask Menendez, ‘Bob, just how innocent can you be?’

Really the very best you could say about Menendez is that he habitually behaves in a sleazy manner which goes right up to the line of clear illegality. That might be enough to keep him out of prison. But it’s just not the standard you expect from a United States senator. Or, if it is, we should be expecting better. And to be clear, I mean that’s the best you could plausibly say. It’s not what I do say. What I say is that he appears to be a crook. And even a crook who couldn’t break the habit and go straight after getting off the first time with a mistrial — which is really saying something.

Schumer seems to have concluded that Menendez isn’t budging and thus there’s little to be gained by trying and failing to nudge him. He also probably doesn’t want to set the precedent that an indictment alone requires resignation. Menendez is up for reelection in 2024. It would be pretty crazy to lose a safe Senate seat over this joker’s behavior.

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