Senate Democrats are steering clear of Sen. Robert Menendez's federal corruption trial, not answering questions on whether the New Jersey Democrat should resign if convicted.
Democrats have found various ways to avoid answering whether Menendez should resign his position if convicted, and some fear he may be found guilty but refuse to give up his seat, CNN reports. They are also aware that if Menendez resigns before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves office in January 2018, the Republican would choose a temporary replacement. How long that successor would stay in office depends on how close the appointment would come on the calendar to the state's next election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Ben Cardin (Md.) have all demurred when asked about the possibility of a Menendez conviction.
"Senator Menendez is issuing a spirited defense," Schumer said when asked if he would stand by him during the trial. "We all believe in the presumption of innocence in this country, and Senator Menendez is fighting very hard and we respect that greatly."
Schumer later ignored a question asking whether Menendez should resign if he is convicted. Federal prosecutors allege Menendez took bribes for years and attempted to cover it up, while using the power of his office to benefit a wealthy donor.
"I think I'm not going to go down that path," Cardin said in response to a question about the possibility of a conviction. "Obviously we are all waiting to see what happens with the outcome of that."
"Hopefully this will come to an end," Cardin added.
That hope is shared by Democrats concerned that Menendez's corruption allegations could lead to political trouble for their congressional minority. If Christie is able to appoint a Republican to temporarily hold Menendez's seat, that extra vote could influence important legislative votes this year.
Menendez was indicted in 2015 on corruption charges including bribery, but his Democratic colleagues in the Senate continued taking money from his New Millennium PAC into this past year. Among those whose campaigns received $10,000 were Stabenow and Tester, although the latter said Menendez's trial was not occupying his attention.
"I haven't really been paying attention to the trial," Tester said.
Stabenow's campaign declined the Detroit News‘ request for comment and Manchin called for withholding "judgment in any way, shape, or form." Fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D.) showed his support at the first day of Menendez's trial Wednesday, giving him a handshake and a hug.
Other senators who received money from Menendez's PAC have not said he should resign if convicted. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who took $5,000 from the PAC, said last week she was not even considering the implications of a conviction.