Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), clothed in his much ballyhooed hoodie and shorts, held court with reporters just feet away from the room where the indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was appealing to his colleagues to stand with him.
“I was very clear that unless the only thing he has to say is that he’s going to resign, that I’m not interested in some kind of explanation on why he has gold bars in his mattress or anything like that,” he said.
He called for Menendez’ outster, asserting that his ongoing refusal to resign demonstrates a “level of arrogance that is astonishing.” He also joked that he had googled the cost of a kilo of gold — a reference to a search Menendez had allegedly performed, per the indictment — and was eager to peruse Costco’s stock.
The federal indictment was unsealed Friday charging Menendez with three counts of public corruption stemming from an alleged bribery scheme in which he helped funnel money and weapons aid to Egyptian officials in exchange for kickbacks for him and his wife. The senator pleaded not guilty on Wednesday.
On Thursday, his colleagues tried to slip out of the weekly lunch without attracting the attention of the horde of reporters stalking the doorways.
On his way out of the room, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told reporters that Menendez said he would not resign.
Most refused to say anything substantive about Menendez’ lengthy appeal.
“It was tough to be in there,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) said haltingly. “Regardless of what we think, the senator is a real human being with family and loved ones and so my prayers go out.”
Warnock is among the majority of his caucus that has called on Menendez to resign.
“I spoke to him before I issued my statement, and I really don’t have anything more to say, certainly I’m not of a different mind now,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who has called for his resignation, said on his way out of the lunch.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) told reporters that Menendez had spoken for roughly an hour. Others added that they were given an opportunity to ask questions, but that no one did.
Some, besides Fetterman, purposely absented themselves. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told reporters that, as chairman of the Ethics Committee, he does his “best to avoid circumstances where matters that are or may be before the Ethics Committee are discussed.”
Senators including Patty Murray (D-WA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Menendez if he refuses to step down.
But no one came close to matching Fetterman’s ire Thursday, as he impugned Menendez both for a lack of “honor” and for the political peril in which he’s placing his party during an election cycle where so many incumbents are already fighting uphill battles.
Mentioning Montana and Ohio, where Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are running for reelection, Fetterman said that Menendez is bringing “baggage” to a situation that’s “already difficult.”
“Now that puts New Jersey in play if he somehow does end up on the ballot,” he said.