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Democrats in New Jersey take first step to get rid of controversial Bob Menendez

The Democratic primary for New Jersey's Senate seat will be decided next week. Voters will then nominate their candidate, who will likely replace Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in Congress.

However, this does not necessarily mean that Menendez will not be available for the general election in November. The candidate is currently facing federal charges of public corruption, bribery and spying.

The controversial senator, who is in his third term, has not filed for the primary election but has vowed to run for re-election as an “independent” Democrat if acquitted.

Still, the nomination brings Democrats a step closer to moving on from Menendez, as most Senate Democrats have called for him to resign. He was stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but continued to attend classified briefings on Capitol Hill, to the chagrin of some Democratic colleagues.

“In many cases, this makes Menendez an extinct species,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, whose clients have included former President Bill Clinton and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sheinkopf noted that the Menendez name will remain in New Jersey politics, at least for now. Menendez's son, Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez (NJ), is trying to keep his House seat in his father's shadow.

Democratic Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey is expected to easily win the June 4 primary after Tammy Murphy, the wife of Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, dropped out of the race earlier. In March, she said it had become “clear to me that continuing in this race would mean a very divisive and negative campaign, and I'm not prepared to do that.”

Kim faces two Democratic opponents: progressive activist Lawrence Hamm, who ran unsuccessfully against Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in 2020, and labor leader Patricia Campos Medina, who would be the first Latina from New Jersey in Congress.

Rep. Andy Kim speaks to reporters at the Bergen County Democratic Convention in Paramus, N.J., Monday, March 4, 2024. In New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez's Senate seat is contested since he was indicted last year on federal corruption charges. And so far, Andy Kim, a Democratic congressman seeking the nomination, is gaining key support at the district level. Right now, he's running against Tammy Murphy, a first-time candidate who is married to Gov. Phil Murphy. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Early voting begins on Wednesday. Kim is the clear favorite for the primaries and the general election.

Sheinkopf praised Kim as a “reformer” in light of the candidate's lawsuit seeking the elimination of county line primaries in New Jersey, a move that could impact local elections across the state. A judge ruled in Kim's favor this spring that the controversial ballot design, which gives party-backed candidates an advantage by strategically placing endorsed candidates together, will not be used in the June primary.

Menendez is accused of acting as a foreign agent for the governments of Egypt and Qatar. As part of this alleged enterprise, he is also alleged to have accepted large bribes in the form of gold bars and cash from two New Jersey businessmen, as well as obstruction of justice, fraud and extortion.

Menendez has denied any wrongdoing. His defense has been to blame his wife, Nadine Menendez, who is also charged in the case, and to downplay his actions as a normal voter and political matter. His trial began on May 13.

The clock is ticking for him to launch his unlikely candidacy as an independent, with the deadline fast approaching in the midst of his trial. Menendez must collect and submit 800 signatures by the June 4 primary, which he said he would New Jersey GlobeThe status of his efforts and the number of signatures collected were unclear.

If Menendez were to not run for re-election in the fall, it would be a cause for relief for Senate Democrats. Most of them have long been prepared to drop him politically. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is the only member of the leadership who has refused to call for his resignation. Schumer, however, has made it clear that he disapproves of Menendez's conduct, initially saying he was “deeply disappointed and disturbed” by the allegations.

“We all know that senators are held to a much, much higher standard, and when you read the indictment, it is clear that Senator Menendez fell far, far below that standard,” Schumer told reporters in September.

Inspired by the Washington Examiner When Schumer considered earlier this month whether Menendez should be expelled from the chamber if convicted, he objected.

“He is on trial,” he said. “So I will not comment on that.”

Senator John Fetterman (D-Penn.) has fought tirelessly to oust Menendez, but he remains alone as the only Democrat willing to call for expulsion.

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Kim could start serving in the Senate sooner than expected. If Menendez, 70, resigns or is kicked out of the Senate by his colleagues, Kim could be appointed by the governor to fill the vacancy until he is elected.

But if convicted, Menendez could theoretically continue to serve in the Senate, vote, and even be re-elected in November.

Anna Harden

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