Sen. Bob Menendez goes to trial in less than three weeks and the stakes could not be higher.
The New Jersey Democrat was indicted almost two and a half years ago on bribery charges. He is accused of exploiting his position as a United States senator to help Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor and huge donor to his campaigns.
In return for campaign donations and gifts worth almost one million dollars, Menendez allegedly provided many personal favors to Melgen. Perks included pushing a Medicare policy that would have helped Melgen’s business, supporting a port security deal on his behalf and pushing to obtain visas for his college-aged girlfriends from around the world.
Jury selection begins on Tuesday and opening statements are planned for Sept. 6. The trial is predicted to last for one to two months.
The implications of the trial go far beyond Menendez’s own well-being.
Should Menendez, a liberal Democrat, be removed from office, the governor of New Jersey would appoint a replacement to fill out the remainder of his term. That person, of course, is Chris Christie, a Republican ally of President Donald Trump.
The GOP holds a majority in the Senate chamber, but not a very large majority. Controversial votes, as we’ve all noticed, have come down to the wire many times already during this congressional session.
Without a doubt, the biggest legislative failure of this administration so far was health care reform. By how big a margin did we lose the skinny repeal vote?
Replacing just one Democrat in the Senate would have major legislative implications.
Menendez’s term ends in 2018. Is it possible he is forced to resign amid a bribery conviction and Christie replaces him with a Republican who can legislate conservatively for over a year (before New Jersey voters surely elect some other liberal social justice warrior in the mold of Cory Booker)?
This is absolutely possible. But there are complications.
Technically, a bribery conviction (should the jury find him guilty) would not force him out of office. For over the past two years, Menendez has fanatically maintained his innocence. Should he be convicted, he may stay on the job for as long as possible to save face.
The beleaguered Democrat could be ousted by a two-thirds vote from his Senate colleagues. However, it’s hard to imagine 15 Democrats – knowing full well the implications of his dismissal – would choose to kick him out.
Also, Senate Republicans hoping for a new, like-minded colleague are on a time crunch. New Jersey holds gubernatorial elections on off-years. Christie leaves office in January 2018 – that’s not a lot of wiggle room for those hoping to see Menendez kicked out and replaced by the current governor.
Conviction or not, Menendez would probably be game to ride this out until a Democrat has safely replaced the outgoing Christie.
New Jersey is already a deep-blue state. And with Chris Christie’s approval rating at record-setting lows in the Garden State, we can be certain the successor to the governor’s mansion will have a “D” after his name.
It’s very possible Menendez could be ousted in time for a GOP replacement to completely upend the balance of the Senate…
But things would have to happen sooner rather than later.