(WASHINGTON) -- A growing number of Senate Democrats on Tuesday called on New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to resign after a federal grand jury returned a sweeping indictment against him late last week.
The Senate returned to Washington Tuesday for the first time since Menendez, a Democrat, was indicted on federal bribery charges. While many Senate Democrats were initially slow to react, many of them are now calling for Menendez to step aside, with at least 18 having done so by Tuesday evening.
Most notable is Menendez's New Jersey Senate colleague Cory Booker. Booker called the allegations against Menendez "hard to reconcile with the person I know," but said he ultimately concluded that Menendez ought to resign his seat in the Senate.
"Stepping down is not an admission of guilty but an acknowledgement that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost," Booker said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is the best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving."
Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for wielding his power to enrich three businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides -- and benefit the Egyptian government. Those bribes, according to prosecutors, included gold bars, a luxury convertible car, home mortgage payments and more. Menendez has denied wrongdoing.
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., was the first Senate Democrat to call on Menendez to step down. In a Saturday statement, Fetterman asserted that while Menendez is deserving of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, he is "not entitled to continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations."
Menendez seemed to be answering Fetterman's statement, and calls from others for his resignation, during remarks to gathered press on Monday afternoon.
While defending himself from what he described as "salacious" allegations in the indictment, Menendez called on his fellow lawmakers to be patient as he defends himself in court.
"A cornerstone of the foundation of American democracy and our justice system is the principle that all people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. All people. I ask for nothing more and deserve nothing less," Menendez said. "The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system. We cannot set aside the presumption of innocence for political expediency when the harm is irrevocable."
Menendez called on onlookers to "pause and allow the facts to be presented."
But he did not find a sympathetic audience in many of his fellow Democratic senators.
Since Menendez's remarks, several additional Senate Democrats have joined Fetterman in his calls for Menendez to resign.
Among them are Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who said Menendez violated the public's trust.
"Public service is a sacred trust. The specific allegations set forth in the federal indictment indicate to me that Senator Menendez violated that trust repeatedly. While he is entitled to the presumption of innocence, serving in public office is a privilege that demands a higher standard of conduct. Senator Menendez should resign," Casey said in a statement.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined as well.
"Senator Menendez has broken the public trust and should resign from the U.S. Senate," Brown said.
Menendez, who is up for reelection 2024, has not yet announced whether he intends to run. But so far, the most vocal of those calling for his resignation are his colleagues who will be on the ballot next November.
Casey and Brown are up next cycle. So, too, are Sens. Jacky Rosen, Tammy Baldwin, Martin Heinrich and Jon Tester, who have joined the chorus calling on Menendez to resign.
Tester's call was particularly notable as he holds what is largely expected to one of the hardest seats for Democrats to keep next fall, in red Montana.
"I've read the detailed charges against Senator Menendez and find them deeply disturbing. While he deserves a fair trial like every other American, I believe Senator Menendez should resign for the sake of the public's faith in the U.S. Senate," Tester said in a statement.
Other Democrats include Sens. Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Georgia's Raphael Warnock and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal.
On Monday, Menendez seemed to swipe at those who are using his indictment to forward their political campaigns.
"Remember prosecutors are wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that," Menendez said. "Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to take the opportunity for themselves or those around them."
Menendez has temporarily stepped away from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee amid allegations.
This is the second time Menendez has been charged with corruption. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges.