Michelle Goldberg, whose work I almost always really like, has a weird column this morning, berating the Democratic Senate leadership for not expelling the comically crooked Robert Menendez from the world’s worst deliberative body. Goldberg does have some appropriate fun with Menendez’s grotesque deployment of identity politics in the face of being found with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars lying around his house:
At a defiant news conference on Monday, Menendez insisted he’s staying in the Senate and offered a preposterous excuse for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that F.B.I. agents found at his house. He said he kept it for emergencies, “because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.” Apparently, Menendez, who was born in New York, wants us to believe that, because of intergenerational trauma, he feels the need to hedge against Communist revolution in America. (Ironically, his family now, indeed, faces government confiscation.) He also claimed to be the victim of racist persecution by those who “simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. senator” — a deployment of identity politics so audaciously cynical, it belongs in a caustic TV farce, some deranged mash-up of “Veep” and “The Sopranos.”
But she goes off the rails here:
Fetterman was the first Democratic senator to call for Menendez’s resignation. He’s since been joined by several others, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and, most significantly, Menendez’s fellow New Jersey senator, Cory Booker. Outside the Senate, influential Democrats — including New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, and the former House speaker Nancy Pelosi — have also said Menendez should step down.
But the Senate’s top Democratic leaders are so far standing behind him, with Schumer calling him a “dedicated public servant” who “is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey.” Perhaps Schumer and others are holding their fire so they can try to ease Menendez out behind the scenes, but given Menendez’s news conference, he seems unlikely to go anywhere without a shove. And until Senate leaders denounce him — and, if necessary, make plans to expel him — Menendez’s shame will taint them as well.
Schumer is no dummy, and I have no doubt that he’s doing precisely what Goldberg assumes he’s doing, which is to try to find some way of convincing Menendez to quit.
What Goldberg never mentions is that Menedez can’t be expelled without the cooperation of at least a third of the GOP Senate caucus! What in the world makes her imagine that this will be forthcoming under the circumstances — the circumstances being politics in the US of A in the fall of 2023? Menendez, of course, understand this perfectly well, which is why I would be astonished if he resigns.
The larger point here is that we have a bunch of institutions in this country that depend on certain informal norms regarding what’s tolerable in order to function tolerably well. Such norms include:
(1) You can’t run for president if you’re facing 91 criminal charges and just had all your business licenses revoked because you’re sleazier than the average televangelist.
(2) You can’t be a SCOTUS justice if you continually takes a lot of bribe-y looking “gifts” from plutocrats who are lobbying to reverse SCOTUS precedents that interfere with their money-gathering activities.
(3) You can’t be in the US Senate if there are a lot of days when you can’t reliably remember exactly where you are or what you’re doing at the moment, because you’re increasingly demented.
Here I’d like to insert Bill Paxton’s line from Aliens about a failure to keep up with current events, because THIS SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING ANY MORE.