This ought to have been a happy time for New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. The Democrat who was re-elected easily last November is succeeding John Kerry as chairman of the important Foreign Relations Committee. That should afford him the opportunity to continue to cement his role as a major player in the Senate. Given Menendez’s strong support for Israel and his willingness to stand up to the administration on issues like Iran sanctions, his elevation was seen as an improvement over Kerry even by many Republicans. But instead of basking in the glow of his rise to new prominence the senator is spending his time dodging the press and refusing to answer questions about his efforts to help the business of a wealthy donor and his alleged participation in sex parties with prostitutes that were hosted by his friend.
The story mixes the more mundane ethical questions about how far politicians are prepared to go to help their donors and the free stuff they get in return–including flights and vacations in the Dominican Republic that Menendez has already been hounded into paying for. But when the free stuff includes sex with underage prostitutes, as the Daily Caller has reported, then it becomes a toxic mix of good government concerns and tabloid sensationalism.
All this places Menendez in the soup and makes his otherwise charmed existence a living hell so long as the press is interested in pursuing the story. But, if there are no real consequences, either in terms of prosecution or political retribution for the senator, it is entirely possible that once the dust settles he will remain in his seat and continue on as if nothing had happened. If so, is this just a matter of political business as usual and a partisan press dredging up a salacious story to embarrass a public figure? That may be what Menendez and those spinning for him will tell us, but there is more here at stake than his fate. Though there are many examples of the public giving ethically challenged politicians a pass, that doesn’t mean we should tolerate this sort of behavior.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program is due out on Friday, but the contents are already being discussed in the international press. One source has already told Agence France Presse that it will detail the fact that the installation of 2,700 centrifuges at the mountain bunker facility at Fordow is now complete. The expectation is that enrichment of uranium that can be used to produce a nuclear weapon at this site will increase in the coming months, bringing Tehran much closer to being capable of producing a weapon. That leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma.
Though the economic sanctions that President Obama belatedly embraced last year have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, as the IAEA report makes clear, they have done nothing to halt their nuclear progress. While the president has reportedly assigned Valerie Jarrett, a close personal confidante, the task of carrying out secret talks with representatives of the ayatollah, there is little reason to believe they are interested in accepting the terms of a possible deal that Obama laid out during the third presidential debate, in which he said they would not be permitted to retain a nuclear program. If that is the president’s goal, he ought to embrace a plan for new and tougher economic sanctions that might actually have a chance to force the Iranians to reconsider their defiance. Yet a report published yesterday in Congressional Quarterly indicates that the administration plans to oppose the scheme.
Lacking a single legislative accomplishment, fumbling the ball on health-care reform, wondering why the president seems to be operating in a parallel political universe, Senate Democrats are not going to do nothing, mind you. They have a new secret plan: don’t get blamed and try to divide the other side. Yup:
Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their electoral woes — and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez is working hard to make sure it’s not him. Showing that they’ve learned the lesson of Massachusetts, Menendez and his staff will distribute a memo Tuesday advising Democratic campaign managers to frame their opponents early — and to drive a wedge between moderate voters and tea-party-style conservatives.
The game plan is to force their opponents to answer wacky questions and then make them out to be extremist nuts:
“Do you believe that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen? Do you think the 10th Amendment bars Congress from issuing regulations like minimum health care coverage standards? Do you think programs like Social Security and Medicare represent socialism and should never have been created in the first place? Do you think President Obama is a socialist? Do you think America should return to a gold standard?”
Think it’ll work? Nope, me neither. And it does seem rather pathetic, craven, and oblivious to the real risk that the people harping on the gold standard will be the ones who look like the loonies. You’d think the Democrats would get to work on a positive centrist agenda of their own, perhaps follow the leads of Sens. Webb and Lincoln and oppose the Obami’s unwise anti-terror policies. But instead they come up with a cheesy plan that evidences the low regard in which they hold the public. Republicans no doubt have their fingers crossed that this is the sort of silliness they will come up against in November. But I wouldn’t count on it. At some point, some adults in the Democratic caucus may suggest a realistic legislative course adjustment. Otherwise, the discussion will quickly move from speculation over whether the House will change hands to whether both houses will. That’s the sort of thing that happens when the majority party acts irresponsibly and resorts to cheap political stunts.