© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) walks via the Senate subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The charges in opposition to Democratic Senator Bob Menendez will cost President Joe Biden certainly one of his best allies in Congress as he rallies help for support to Ukraine and works to reclaim U.S. management on international points from local weather change to China.
U.S. prosecutors on Friday charged Menendez and his spouse with three felony conspiracy counts of bribery, fraud and extortion over their relationship with businessmen in his dwelling state of New Jersey.
Menendez mentioned he determined to step down quickly as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has denied wrongdoing and mentioned he plans to proceed to work for the individuals of New Jersey regardless of what he described as a “smear campaign.”
The senator is not any stranger to controversy.
He stepped apart because the rating Democrat on the foreign relations committee in 2015 after he was indicted over what prosecutors mentioned was a scheme to commerce political favors for luxurious holidays and marketing campaign donations. He was reinstated because the panel’s prime Democrat in early 2018 after the Justice Department dropped its case.
Friday’s indictment got here because the Biden administration engages in an formidable effort to rebuild U.S. alliances to counter a extra aggressive China and maintain political help for Ukraine’s warfare in opposition to Russian forces, which has cost the United States greater than $100 billion.
Menendez has been a vital companion for Biden on these and different foreign policy priorities. He has steered the confirmations of dozens of Biden’s appointees via the Senate, and forcefully helped make Biden’s case for added humanitarian, financial and army help for Ukraine.
“Like him or dislike him, Menendez has played an incredibly influential role when it comes to shaping U.S. foreign policy,” mentioned Daniel Vajdich, a Republican former Foreign Relations Committee staffer.
Vajdich famous that Menendez’s departure provides to uncertainty on Capitol Hill about foreign policy, given sharp divisions amongst Republicans, who management the House of Representatives, on points like support to Ukraine.
Menendez is predicted to be succeeded as chairman by Senator Ben Cardin, who stepped in because the panel’s prime Democrat in 2015, when Menendez was indicted on charges that had been later dropped.
At a White House press briefing, spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre declined to touch upon the charges.
UKRAINE AID IN QUESTION
Congress is now contemplating Biden’s request from July for $24 billion extra on prime of $113 billion already despatched to Kyiv, an enchantment that faces resistance from many hard-right Republicans as lawmakers scramble to fund the federal government earlier than a Sept. 30 deadline.
The committee chair is the highest foreign policy place in Congress.
As chairman, Menendez writes laws, units the agenda for committee hearings, oversees the president’s nominations for a variety of nationwide safety positions topic to Senate affirmation and critiques most worldwide weapons gross sales.
Suzanne Wrasse, a spokesperson for Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s prime Republican, mentioned Risch hoped for steerage from Democratic management quickly on subsequent steps.
Menendez has been an ally to Biden on Ukraine in opposition to what he has known as Russia’s “brutal assault.” And he has labored with the administration and Senate leaders on China, together with a significant invoice to spice up the U.S. semiconductor trade that turned legislation final yr.
He has not all the time seen eye-to-eye with Democratic presidents. Menendez opposed then-President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear take care of Iran and any discuss of reviving the settlement.
Under Senate Democratic Conference guidelines, any member charged with a felony should hand over his or her committee management place.
Menendez will not be required to resign from the Senate and might return to his committee put up if the charges are dropped or lowered to lower than a felony.