Goodbye John Kerry, Hello Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez, an Iran hawk, Iraq dove, pro-immigration, pro-embargo Cuban American, will most likely be the next chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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Stephen Chernin / Getty Images

Senator Robert Menendez

When John Kerry is confirmed to succeed Hillary Clinton President Obama’s Secretary of State, as he’s expected to be in the coming weeks, he will leave the gavel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Bob Menendez, a second-term New Jersey Democrat.

Rarely has such a transfer of power offered such a study in opposites.

Menendez, who is Cuban American, is the first Latino elected to the U.S. House and Senate from New Jersey and would become the first Latino chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. His rise to the top of a panel with broad authority to oversee U.S. foreign policy will mean new attention to relations with Central and South America, normally a diplomatic backwater. Menendez will be an Administration ally on immigration reform – he has offered reform measures year after year only to see them die in the Senate. But his new authority is likely to slow efforts to liberalize relations with Cuba; Menendez, 59, is fiercely pro-embargo.

Whereas Kerry had to wait nearly 30 years to become chairman, Menendez’s rise to the top in six is relatively meteoric. The job should fall to the next most senior Democrat, California’s Barbara Boxer, but Boxer has indicated she prefers to remain chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Menendez will have the somewhat complicated job of overseeing the work that Kerry, his predecessor on the panel, does at State. The two men have convivial relations that will surely be tested in the coming years.

As the U.S. enters a critical stage in relations with Iran, Menendez represents the pro-Israel wing of the Democratic party — thanks in part to the large Jewish population in New Jersey — that has been pushing the President to get tougher on Iran. Menendez, along with Republican Senator Mark Kirk, co-authored sweeping sanctions last year against Iran that the Administration didn’t particularly want. And he has voiced reservations about Chuck Hagel, Obama’s nominee to run the Pentagon, because of Hagel’s past statements on Iran. “He certainly has been a strong voice on Iran sanctions and has been instrumental in overcoming Administration hesitation on the most recent sanctions bill,” says Mike Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Menendez also nearly brought down one of the Administration’s early jobs bills in March 2009 and placed holds on two of Obama’s nominees over an appropriations rider that would have eased travel restrictions to Cuba. Opponents of the embargo were hoping the time was right for liberalization of U.S./Cuba relations just as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican of Cuban descent, finally left the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a perch from which she blocked many an effort to open up Cuba. “He’s reflected the Cuban-American community faithfully, but that community is changing,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.”Younger Cubans are less likely to oppose normalization of relations. Just look at Florida and the Cuban vote there; it’s much the same thing in New Jersey and New York. The Castro brothers will pass from the scene entirely before too long, and then I’d bet matters will move more swiftly.”

Menendez got his start working for Union City Mayor William Musto in the 1970’s. Menendez turned on Musto after he was indicted on corruption charges, testifying against Musto in a bulletproof vest. He later took Musto’s job and served in the New Jersey General Assembly and Senate before being elected to Congress in 1992. Menendez’s prolific fundraising – New Jersey is, after all, home to much of the nation’s financial sector – helped get him elected in 2002 conference chairman, the No. 4 position in House leadership. He won Jon Corzine’s Senate seat in 2006, and again rose quickly through the ranks thanks to his fundraising prowess. He chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2010, outraising Republicans $130 million to $115 million in a big GOP year. Though Democrats lost six seats, Menendez was credited with saving the majority.

Menendez was investigated by then U.S. Attorney Chris Christie on allegations of corruption, though charges were never filed. In January 2012, Menendez blocked the confirmation of Patty Schwartz, Obama’s nominee to the federal bench and the long-time partner of the head of New Jersey’s public corruption unit in the federal prosecutor’s office. Though Menendez denied it at the time, the New York Times reported that lawyers and judges in New Jersey believed he “was acting out of resentment” stemming from the embarrassing corruption investigation.

During his tenure as chairman, Kerry was careful to never cross the line from friendly criticism to friendly fire on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. An op-ed pushing for greater engagement in Libya, or some pointed comments about the lackadaisical pace of the Middle East peace process was as far as Kerry went. Menendez, by contrast, has shown much more willingness to take on his fellow Democrats up Pennsylvania Avenue and a chairman’s perch gives him a bigger megaphone. “The central question about Menendez is whether he’ll moderate any of his views to accommodate his party’s President,” Sabato says. If not, he may soon find himself taking on not only Obama, but his predecessor.

55 comments
YngwieFM
YngwieFM

One of the most discredited organizations in the world. In a sane world, the Council would apologize to the nation, disband and it's members slink away to never be heard from again.....that includes Joe Klien.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Fastest way to see the Castro regime collapse: open up the country to trade and watch as Capitalism and (more importantly) access to information wash them all away.

notsacredh
notsacredh

“The central question about Menendez is whether he’ll moderate any of his views to accommodate his party’s President,” Sabato says. If not, he may soon find himself taking on not only Obama, but his predecessor.

.

Here comes the horse trading.



 

notsacredh
notsacredh

Thanks for another well written article JNS. I was just wondering, are your travels going to include Cuba? I'm always more interested in what the people think rather than what the governments say they think. They're often polar opposites.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

But his new authority is likely to slow efforts to liberalize relations with Cuba; Menendez, 59, is fiercely pro-embargo.

Wonderful, so even when Castro dies it's likely that nothing will change.  Why do we need to keep punishing the people of Cuba for a Cold War that is long over?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb 

Are you getting into tabloid journalism too Paul?  This is unproven.

MementoMori
MementoMori

@paulejb You still here? Thought you were still off wallowing in your Galtian fantasyland somewhere...

But please, tell us more stories about your Dominican hookers. That's all you really ever have. Trash and delusions.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@paulejb Thank you, we already saw that in this thread.  See Kevin's thread below.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@sacredh Yeah, it's not bad enough we have GOPers sabotaging everything. Now we have to elevate the saboteurs in our own house.

MementoMori
MementoMori

@KevinGroenhagen I imagine that Kevin places a lot of trust in the credibility of Dominican call girls.

Or do you have any actual proof, Kevin?

MementoMori
MementoMori

@KevinGroenhagen "I have no proof"

Thanks for admitting that, at least. Any other crazy, unproven rightwing theories you want to put out there? It'd be nice to get them all out the way early for a change.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@MementoMori @KevinGroenhagen I place more trust in Dominican call girls than in a socialist like Menendez. And didn't you folks also disparage the claims of a White House intern? I have no proof, but there is much evidence supporting the call girls.

gysgt213
gysgt213

@tkulaga @DonQuixotic Does anyone know anymore?  Looks like now we are just doing it because we can which makes even less sense than doing it in the first place.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Do you have an unhealthy obsession with Peanut Butter? You keep calling everyone Skippy.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@KevinGroenhagen

Because, of course, being a serial cheater, a John and a cheapskate means that you will spend other people's money for personal gain and not perform your duty to the public.  History demonstrates that such a correlation simply does not exist.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@KevinGroenhagen

I didn't say it's moral, I said it's part of his personal life and doesn't get considered into calculations of how immoral he is as a Senator.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@KevinGroenhagen @forgottenlord

If you think it's worthwhile to subscribe only to tabloid journalism go right ahead.  From your own article:

The story itself seems rather suspicious, even if — a rather large if — it turns out to be true.  Neither of these two women knew who “Bob” was at the time of the alleged transaction by their own admission.  How, then, did they come to realize his identity and choose to make it public?  At least according to this video, they seem to have become aware of Menendez’ identity only when told about it by someone else.  So who was that someone else, and how did they know about it?

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@KevinGroenhagen

I put a huge separation between one's personal and professional lives.  I do not consider who one sleeps with to determine whether they are immoral or perverted in business.  So.... no, I don't care.

notsacredh
notsacredh

They're even better if pictures are involved.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@Sue_N @forgottenlord @KevinGroenhagen 

Generally I only care about sex scandals when they run in complete contrast to a politicians policies, like a staunchly anti gay marriage proponent being caught in a gay affair.  Then I think it's fair game.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@forgottenlord @KevinGroenhagen Sex scandals also have a long and hallowed place in our political history. For example, Thomas Jefferson.

Sex isn't corruption, unless and until prostitutes and rent-boys form large and powerful lobby groups and start interfering in the workings of our government. You know, when our officials start taking money from hookers, instead of the other way around.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@Sue_N @KevinGroenhagen @forgottenlord 

Bu-bu-but I thought if it happened in the party it was OK??

Really if people want to go after Menendez there are better scandals he's tied to instead of hearsay hookers out of the Enquirer.  Not that I particularly care either way, I don't fall in line and support anyone just because they have a D in front of their name (and Menendez is not my Representative so I'll leave scrutinizing him to his constituents).

Sue_N
Sue_N

@KevinGroenhagen @forgottenlord Hey, here's a novel idea: If anyone can prove anything, like with actual, actionable evidence, then charge, try and convict him and get him out of there.

Believe it or not, to many of us, corrupt Democrats are just as bad as corrupt Republicans.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@KevinGroenhagen 

(Oh, and for Republican equivalents, I didn't really care about Vitter or what's his face with the wide stance)

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@KevinGroenhagen

Sex scandals are boring.  I really don't care if he did or didn't have sex with hookers or what he actually paid them.  I didn't care when it was Bill Clinton.  I didn't care when it was Spitzer (though I do have fun with the hypocrisy).  I didn't care when it was Weiner (though the name was fun).  I don't care about it now.

Sex scandals do not, in my mind, equate to corruption.  What he does with his own money in his private life is his business.  So, I reiterate: *yawn*

AfGuy
AfGuy

We NEED enemies.... to keep the defense expenditures flowing and certain consituencies within our respective parties happy.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@DonQuixotic @gysgt213 @tkulaga All the embargo has accomplished is keeping the Castro brothers in power longer than would likely have been the case without it. The embargo, and standing up to the mighty U.S., has made them heroes, despite the price their people have paid.

If we lifted the embargo tomorrow and started throwing some cash, tourists and modern conveniences toward Havana, we'd almost certainly see a "Cuban Spring."

Sue_N
Sue_N

@DonQuixotic @gysgt213 @tkulaga Because if we don't, then Cubans will lose their "special" status and have to go through the same immigration process as everyone else?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@gysgt213 @tkulaga @DonQuixotic 

Really.  It can be argued that it doesn't serve any strategic purpose or political purpose (except of course appeasing voting blocks that are pro-embargo).  Why are we still doing it?