The Menendez Dominos & Lake’s Announcement

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribery payments.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribery payments. Photo: Fatih Aktas/Getty Images
Abby Livingston
September 26, 2023
  • Menendez Fallout: Senate Democrats up for reelection next year were falling over themselves today to call for the resignation of their colleague Bob Menendez, post-indictment. But one member’s call, in particular, drew outsize attention: Mendendez’s mentee and New Jersey’s junior senator, Cory Booker. As of press time, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod BrownBob CaseyJohn Fetterman, Jacky Rosen, John Tester, and Peter Welch had also called for Menendez to step down. “You realize all these Senators are coming out now before they get ‘gaggled’ tonight…” one Democratic lobbyist quipped over text, referring to the swarm of reporters hanging around the Senate chamber. Naturally, there’s some political gamesmanship afoot. Now, if Menendez does stay on (as he seems determined to do), Democrats can say they held one of their own facing indictment to a standard that Republicans won’t with George Santos, or G.O.P. presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. For inquiring minds, the last time the Senate expelled a member was 1862, for siding with Confederacy. Since the Civil War, the Senate has instead leaned on censure as a punishment to pressure senators into resignation.

    Again, keep an eye on the county chairs in New Jersey, where Menendez is bleeding support. But even their power is limited to denying Menendez local endorsements that give preferential treatment on the ballot (known as “the line”) in the state’s June primary. If Menendez sticks this out, he risks pariah status until he faces reelection, but that’s about it for now.

  • Penn Avenue Freeze Out: Shutdown negotiations are entering the calm-before-the-storm phase. Members are not returning for votes until Wednesday, the final push before the Saturday midnight deadline to fund the government. Indeed, things are looking so grim that even the most die-hard Bruce Springsteen fans on Capitol Hill are expressing relief that The Boss delayed his Friday night concert at Nats Park, which reporters and leadership staffers feared they would otherwise have to miss… and potentially eat the cost of those E-Street tickets.

  • Top of the Lake: Republican Kari Lake all-but-announced her entrance into the Arizona Senate race on Tuesday, which delighted Democrats after she underperformed expectations during her gubernatorial run last year. “A Lake announcement is what national Republicans have long anticipated and have somewhat made peace with,” Cook Political Report Senate analyst Jessica Taylor told me. “Despite their efforts to influence primaries elsewhere, they believed from the outset that if she ran, she’d win the primary no matter what they did.”

    Given the brewing three-way race between incumbent Kyrsten Sinema (who has yet to announce her candidacy after becoming an independent) and Ruben Gallego (on track to be the Democratic nominee), Taylor believes that Lake would have a stronger chance if she had some level of cross-party appeal. Alas, “that’s not where the Arizona Republican Party is,” she noted. “And that’s why they’ve lost three successive Senate races.”