The Obama administration’s strained relations with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) over critical foreign policy issues may now be at the breaking point. This development comes amid reports that the Department of Justice has decided to pursue criminal charges against the veteran New Jersey politician.
Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sharply differed with the administration on everything from normalizing diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba to the parameters for waging war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
How Menendez, the leading Democrat on foreign relations, and the White House will continue to work together remains to be seen. The Justice Dept. is filing criminal corruption charges against Menendez based on his relationship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a close friend and donor. Federal officials may allege that the 22-year-veteran of the House and Senate received gifts from Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, in exchange for official favors. Menendez vigorously denied any wrongdoing on Friday and vowed, “I am not going anywhere.”
An adroit politician who grew up in working-class Union City, N.J., Menendez, 61, has maintained his clout this year despite losing the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee after the GOP takeover of the Senate.
This week, he and other Democrats forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to postpone consideration of a bill that would give Congress the authority to review any deal Obama strikes with Iran on its nuclear program.
A hardliner when it comes to Iran, Menendez has co-sponsored measures to increase sanctions on Tehran even as talks between the U.S. and Iran near a finale. But he argued McConnell was premature in rushing a bill to the floor before like-minded Republicans and Democrats could further consider the measure in committee.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez criticized Obama’s decision last December to normalize relations with Cuba and end a half-century trade embargo. He also decried the trading of convicted Cuban spies for a long-imprisoned U.S. aid worker, saying it vindicated the Cuban government’s brutal behavior.
After insisting Obama formally request new war powers authority for the fight against ISIS terrorists, Menendez and other Democrats are unhappy with the president’s proposed language. They are wary Obama’s proposal provides him with too much leeway for expanding U.S. military presence in the Middle East – including sending in more troops or special operations units.
While many Republicans oppose the White House draft for being too restrictive – Menendez and other Democrats strongly oppose the proposal for being a “blank check.”
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