Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) foreshadowed today’s news that the Department of Justice is preparing corruption charges against him by hinting to AIPAC that his political enemies would try to “break” him for his resolve on Iran sanctions.
Menendez, the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime proponent of tough measures on Iran to prevent the Islamic Republic from getting a nuclear weapon, has long been a thorn in the side of the White House for his determination to keep and impose tough sanctions.
But last Friday, Menendez upped the ante.
On top of the reintroduction of sanctions legislation with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that the administration disliked, he introduced a bill Friday that the White House really hates: one that requires congressional approval of an Iran deal.
Menendez introduced the legislation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). The bill mandates that the president submit the text of any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.
Both the Kirk-Menendez sanctions and the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act are strongly bipartisan and likely to receive veto-proof majorities. Menendez has been absolutely critical to rallying Dem support.
And when it came to rallying the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby the evening before AIPAC’s big lobbying day — which coincided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s big speech day — Menendez was a rock star, likely infuriating the White House.
His speech followed National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who got a lukewarm at best reception. Among the lawmakers in the crowd to cheer Menendez were Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Dem on House Foreign Affairs Committee, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Menendez specifically told the crowd, “I will not yield to those who wish to break me.”
“For so long as I have a voice and a vote, I will not yield to those who wish to break my resolve on stopping Iran’s elicit nuclear program,” he added.
He even got in a dig at Rice: “I take issue with those who say the prime minister’s visit to the United States is ‘destructive’ to U.S.-Israel relations,” Menendez said. Rice made such comments in an interview with PBS aired last week.
Menendez’s speech had the AIPAC audience buzzing afterward. One woman was overheard saying, “Oh my God. We’re moving to New Jersey.”
The senator told the audience that “when it comes to defending the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone — not Israel’s political enemies, and not by my political friends when I believe they’re wrong.”
Menendez declared he would be “proud when I escort Prime Minister Netanyahu to the House Chamber to give his speech, to show him the respect he deserves from every American who cares about our relationship with the only true democracy in the Middle East.”
“…I know there are more than a few people here in Washington who say that I’m outspoken in my defense of Israel – and, frankly, I’m not only proud of it, I’m fully prepared to stand on this stage today – or on any stage anywhere, anytime – to carry that message to both the friends and enemies of Israel around the world.”
The senator agreed to postpone a vote on Iran sanctions until March 25 not because of the White House pressure on him, but to keep on board other Democrats needed to attain the veto-proof majority.
Menendez stressed to AIPAC that Iran “needs to understand that there are consequences to an impasse – and those consequences are additional, consequential sanctions.”
“I can tell you one thing: as long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, as long as I have a vote and a say and a chance to protect the interest of Israel, the region, and the national security interests of the United States – Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon,” he said. “It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch!”
CNN, which broke the story of the pending corruption charges today, said they could be unveiled “within weeks,” saying Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on the prosecution but suggesting they may have been sitting on it for a while: “Prosecutors are under pressure in part because of the statute of limitation on some of the allegations.”
Asked about the story by the White House pool at an event with President Obama today, Holder replied, “I can’t comment on that.”
“The start of this investigation is suspect,” Tricia Enright, Menendez’s communications director, said in a statment. “We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited. We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously.”