As the cloud that Sen. Robert Menendez himself said has been looming over him the last few years burst Wednesday with a torrent of serious federal criminal charges, advocates for causes the lawmaker has championed praised him and pledged their support.
They included proponents of such things as allowing undocumented immigrants to legalize, of a tough stance against Iran and pro-Israel policies, and of keeping the U.S.-Cuba embargo.
Frank Sharry, a long-time and prominent immigrant rights activist who heads America’s Voice in Washingotn D.C., said that Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is “not only the senior Senator from New Jersey; he’s also the senior Senator for Latinos in America.”
“I know him well and love him dearly,” Sharry said in a statement quoted in The Hill. “He has been relentless and effective. … And he is a major reason why Dreamers won relief under [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program], why some 5 million undocumented immigrants are on the verge of living without fear in the country they now call home, and why comprehensive immigration reform is an idea whose time has come for some three quarters of the American public.”
Menendez pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday to charges including bribery, conspiracy and making false statements.
Jewish Democrats and Republicans are rallying around Menendez, who has been unapologetically vocal about his opposition to how the Obama administration has handled Iran, the nuclear program negotiations with that nations, as well as Israel.
In his role as ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he said on Wednesday he would step down from temporarily, Menendez has been a force behind bills to toughen economic sanctions against Iran and to mandate that Congress approve of any nuclear deal.
This year, Menendez has raised eyebrows by taking an even more public stance against the White House’s approach to Iran and Israel than he already had done in the past. He said the White House’s comments about Iran sounded “like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.”
And when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to deliver his controversial address to Congress recently, Menendez escorted him in a clear rebuff of President Barack Obama’s condemnation of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to the head of state.
“All I hear, repeatedly, is that he is being punished for his rational and strong stance on trying to get a strong deal for America and Israel, on Iran,” said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, to the New York Times.
Klein said he was urging others to stand by Menendez.
“I say, look, we don’t know the validity of these allegations,” Klein told the Times, “but this is a man who deserves support.”
Norm Coleman, a member of the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, was quoted in the Times as saying that Menendez is assured “broad, widespread, deep support, across the political aisle, from people who care about Israel.”
Supporters of Menendez for his actions in Congress to maintain the U.S.-Cuba embargo and to help Superstorm Sandy victims get insurance monies cheered him when he walked up to the podium at his press conference Wednesday to denounce the indictment.
“Viva Cuba Libre!” yelled Cuban-Americans in the crowd.
“Senator Menendez has been the number one advocate for Sandy victims, helping us fight against [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the insurance companies. We’re here to get his back,” said Douglas Quinn, 50, of Toms River, to Politickernj. “Senator Menendez’s office has been doing back flips to help us out, for myself personally and for Sandy victims as a class of people."
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