An attorney for Sen. Bob Menendez on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to federal bribery charges, answering for accusations of taking bribes of cash and gold bars in exchange for aiding a trio of New Jersey businessmen and advancing the causes of the government of Egypt.
A defiant Menendez, who stepped down as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee after he was charged, has maintained his innocence, calling the allegations baseless and rebuffing calls to resign.
But calls for the longtime New Jersey Democrat to resign from within his own party are only growing.
On Wednesday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, joined more than two dozen of his colleagues in calling for Menendez to step down.
“Leaders in New Jersey, including the Governor and my Senate colleague Cory Booker, have made it clear that Sen. Menendez can no longer serve,” Durbin wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “He should step down.”
Durbin, the highest-ranking Senate Democrat so far to urge Menendez to resign, had previously told CNN that the matter was “a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey.”
“Keep in mind that these are charges, and they have to be proven, and there is a presumption of innocence,” Durbin said at the time, though emphasizing that they are “very serious charges.”
More than half of Senate Democrats have called for Menendez to step down, including Booker, his fellow New Jersey lawmaker, and key members of the conference’s leadership: Sens. Gary Peters, who chairs the Senate Democrats' campaign arm, Debbie Stabenow, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, and Amy Klobuchar, the No. 4 Senate Democrat.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a powerful voice in the conference, has even called for a probe into “what Egypt is doing here and what they thought they were getting,” per Punchbowl News.
Murphy told the outlet that the Senate has “a responsibility to understand whether Egypt was running an illicit influence campaign on the Foreign Relations Committee,” calling it “deeply problematic for our relationship with Egypt if they were operating a very illegal influence campaign directed at members of the Foreign Relations Committee.”
Several members of the conference, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Rhode Island Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, have resisted calls for Menendez to step down, emphasizing that the decision should be left up to the voters of New Jersey.
Republicans have largely echoed that stance, saying that Menendez should be judged in a court of law and by the voters in his state rather than his fellow Democrats.
All eyes will no doubt be on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to see if his stance will shift on the longtime New Jersey lawmaker. So far, Schumer has emphasized that Menendez has the right to due process and praised his decision to step down as the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, but has not gone further than that.
On Wednesday, Schumer said that Menendez will address the Democratic caucus on Thursday. The New York Democrat said that he was "deeply disturbed" by the allegations against Menendez, but stopped short of calling on him to resign.
"I was deeply disappointed and disturbed when I read the indictment," Schumer said at a press conference on Wednesday. "We all know that for Senators there's a much, much higher standard. And clearly when you read the indictment, Sen. Menendez fell way, way below that standard.”
Meanwhile, several prominent New Jersey Democrats, including Gov. Phil Murphy, and House lawmakers have called for Menendez to step down. One of them, Rep. Andy Kim, has even launched a primary campaign to challenge Menendez next year.
“I think Sen. Menendez, just like every American, is due the opportunity to have a fair trial,” California Rep. Pete Aguilar, the House Democratic Caucus Chair, said at a press conference on Wednesday, before praising his record for the state of New Jersey and for having “lifted up issues that the Latino community cares about time and time again.”
“It doesn’t bring me or any of us joy to say that he should resign, but he should” Aguilar continued. “For the betterment of the Democratic Party, for the people of New Jersey, it’s better that he fights this trial outside the halls of Congress.”