Menendez defiant after meeting with Senate Democrats despite calls to resign

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who faces federal bribery charges, emerged from a meeting Thursday with his fellow Senate Democrats defiant despite calls for his resignation.

“I will continue to cast votes on behalf of the people of New Jersey as I have for 18 years. And I am sure when they need those votes, they’ll be looking for it, for me to catch those votes,” Menendez told reporters after the closed-door luncheon.

During the luncheon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asked that senators serving on the Ethics Committee leave the room, as well as its staff members. Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who are members of the panel, all stepped out of the meeting around 1:30 p.m., according to a source in the room.

Pressure for Menendez to resign has grown since he was indicted last week. As of Thursday afternoon, 30 Senate Democrats — a majority of the caucus — have called on him to step down.

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, were charged with bribery in connection with their alleged acceptance of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in return for the use of the senator’s influence to enrich three New Jersey businessmen and benefit the Egyptian government.

On his way into the Capitol on Thursday, Menendez declined to share with reporters what message he planned to deliver to his colleagues. Asked where the gold bars that federal agents discovered in his New Jersey home came from, he said, “I’ll share what I have to share with my colleagues.”

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., the first Senate Democrat to call for Menendez’s resignation, said he did not attend the lunch because there’s nothing the New Jersey Democrat can say or do except resign.

“It’s a pattern, and he really needs to decide to resign,” Fetterman said. “He’s clearly not going to have an honorable exit,” he added.

Menendez has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. Both he and his wife pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom. Three other defendants charged in the same case also pleaded not guilty.

Senate Democrats, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, were still pressing Menendez to resign from his seat Wednesday.

On Thursday, the top Democrat in the House weighed in on the situation and implied that it’s time for Menendez to go.

“I think that the allegations that have been made against the senator are deeply troubling and should shock the conscience,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told reporters at his weekly news conference. “The senator is entitled to the presumption of innocence, as well as his day in court. At the end of the day, his fate will be decided by a jury of his peers. Yet, it’s hard for me to see how the senator can effectively, at this moment, represent the people he’s ably served for decades in New Jersey.”

The charges Menendez faces include conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

The bribes he and his wife allegedly received included “cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other items of value,” according to the indictment.

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