Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is resuming his role as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, days after the Justice Department dropped a corruption case against him.
“Americans will be able to count on the fact that he, as ranking member, has the expertise and grit needed to strike bipartisan compromises as well as stand up to the president when his rash decisions impact our national security and our allies abroad,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.
That caps a week of victories for Menendez, who relinquished his role as ranking member of the committee when the Justice Department brought charges in 2015. The timing was particularly painful, as Menendez was playing a leading role in the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, which he opposed.
“I will make certain the committee holds President Trump and his administration accountable for its capricious and erratic approach to foreign policy,” Menendez said Tuesday. “Now more than ever, I believe that Congress must assert its role in pursuing a robust American foreign policy that champions the values of democracy, peace, and the preservation of human rights around the globe.”
Progressive activists doubt that pledge, in light of the New Jersey Democrat’s hawkish foreign policy views and willingness to criticize then-President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran during the nuclear debate.
"Sen. Menendez has failed to show he has the dedication to a diplomacy-first foreign policy that's urgently needed now in the Democratic Party and Senate as a whole,” Jo Comerford of moveon.org told Buzzfeed, which first reported Menendez’s impending return.
Menendez’s return to the ranking member’s post could elevate his role in the congressional negotiations over how to implement Trump’s demand for a tougher posture towards Iran. “Now more than ever, I believe that Congress must assert its role in pursuing a robust American foreign policy that champions the values of democracy, peace, and the preservation of human rights around the globe,” Menendez said.
That might strengthen the hand of Iran hawks involved in the talks, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., but it's not softening the campaign wing of the Republican Party's view of Menendez. “By picking the least popular member of the U.S. Senate, who is still under a serious Ethics Committee investigation, Chuck Schumer is showing how out-of-touch he is. Schumer's own far-left base opposes the move, and Menendez’s own constituents don’t even want him in the Senate anymore," Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said Tuesday.
Schumer sought to allay those liberal concerns in announcing the decision. “Sen. Menendez knows how to hold this administration’s feet to the fire, and I have every confidence that he’ll be steadfast in his efforts to hold this president accountable for the foreign policy choices he makes that affect the safety and security of every American,” he said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who played a leading role in concluding the legislative debate over the Iran deal, as well as the crafting of sanctions targeting Russia, Iran, and North Korea in 2017, also gave a gave Menendez a vote of confidence.
“President Trump’s erratic foreign policy that embraces dictators and maligns our allies has forced Congress to assert a greater role in foreign policy,” Cardin said. “He should be aware that our pushback in defense of America’s national security will not waiver with this change in leadership.”