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Cory Booker May Have Delivered the Final Blow to Bob Menendez’s Career

  • Sen. Cory Booker may have killed what remained of Sen. Bob Menendez’s lengthy political career.
  • The New Jersey Democrats were once virtually inseparable.
  • But on Tuesday, Booker joined the growing chorus for Menendez to step aside.

Sen. Cory Booker once cast himself as the sidekick to his mentor, Sen. Bob Menendez, vowing to stand by his fellow New Jersey Democrat despite corruption allegations. On Tuesday, he decided that his partner’s alleged crimes were too much.

In doing so, Booker may have squelched what remained of Menendez’s lengthy political career in the wake of a shocking corruption indictment.

It remains uncertain if New Jersey’s senior senator will resign, but his political empire is now more embattled than ever. Gov. Phil Murphy wants him to step down. Rep. Andy Kim is already primarying Menendez. Even the senator’s son, Rob Menendez, may face a primary challenger. And as of Tuesday, each passing minute seems to bring another Senate Democratic colleague calling on Menendez, who until the indictment led the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to leave the chamber. As of last count, it’s at 17.

If he refuses to resign, the Senate could always move to expel him. Such a vote would be historic, though, as expulsion hasn’t happened since during the Civil War for charges related to supporting the Confederacy. In more recent years, the mere threat of being forced out has led senators to resign.

The most worrisome development for Menendez would be if the Senate Ethics Committee announced its own inquiry into the new corruption allegations. Outside of expulsion, senators cannot be impeached or recalled. This means the most likely end would come in the Senate Democratic primary, nine months from now.

Kim’s challenge means he will face a credible threat, though so far Menendez hasn’t explicitly said he’s running. Menendez’s campaign has just over $7 million in cash on hand, but if the national party were to really behind Kim or another opponent that advantage could dwindle.

If Menendez loses party support, he could also be left to fend for himself without the backing of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm or the assistance of consultants and other critical support that may view working for his campaign as an unnecessary risk. (Some firms dropped Sen. Kyrsten Sinema after she left the party.)

The most notable threat to Menendez would be if county Democrats kick him off of the influential party line on their respective ballots, which Politico previously reported they are considering. The most immediate concern is that even before the indictment, Menendez was deeply unpopular for someone potentially facing reelection next year.

Booker’s turn would be a fitting final chapter to Menendez’s life in public service.

A rising star as mayor of Newark, Booker courted Menendez after winning the-late Frank Lautenberg’s seat. Booker, who would go on to run for president, stood by Menendez during his previous fight against corruption charges. The younger senator went so far as to testify as a character witness at the 2017 trial that ended with a deadlocked jury. Booker then branded himself “the Robin to his Batman” as Menendez later fought to hang onto his seat in 2018. 

Raised in Union City, Menendez famously turned against his own mentor, then the mayor, donning a bulletproof vest as he testified against the powerful interests that ran the city. Eventually, Menendez would become mayor, and then hold dual offices in the state legislature. His final assent to the US House and Senate capped an incredible rise.

Now, it just seems like it’s a matter of time until it’s over.

Correction: September 26, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated the status of Rep. Rob Menendez’s reelection campaign. He is not currently facing a primary challenger.

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