The Crook on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
In a town full of crooks, is Senator Menendez the crookedest of all?
By: Michelle Ellner and Samantha Wherry
It’s about time someone said it — enough is enough with Senator Bob Menendez’s endless cycle of embarrassments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and to our country. In a town full of crooks, it seems like the senator from New Jersey might just be the most crooked of them all. Or at least crooked enough that he should not be serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
If Senator Chuck Schumer was a smart, diplomatic politician he would remove Senator Menendez from any foreign relations work. In a time when China is using peace and diplomacy that is building strong economic connections across the globe, Sen. Menendez’s style of self-serving, authoritarian governorship is a threat to our relationships with countries worldwide. Nothing is more evident to that than Menendez’s treatment of Cuba and Venezuela.
Rather than prioritizing peace and diplomacy with our southern neighbors, Senator Menedez uses his powerful position to enact some of the most hawkish policy choices. That, plus his constant ethics concerns make the senator unfit to lead on our country’s foreign policy and national security decisions.
Menendez’s corruption is well documented. In 2018, the Senate Ethics Committee concluded that the Senator had knowingly accepted numerous illicit gifts of substantial worth over a span of six years from Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist convicted of Medicare fraud. This prompted the Committee to declare that his behavior “broke Senate Rules and pertinent laws, and brought shame to the Senate”, and that he was therefore “sternly warned” and told to repay the gifts he had received from Dr. Melgen.
The Senator is now under criminal investigation again as to whether he and his wife improperly took cash and gifts from the owners of a New Jersey halal certification business in exchange for an exclusive contract with Egypt, the foreign aid to which is under the purview of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In May, investigations expanded to determine Sen. Menendez’s possible connections to a real estate developer who pleaded guilty to a loan scam. Investigators are examining whether Sen. Menendez’s wife received gifts such as a car, jewels, and a D.C. apartment in exchange for political favors. As new subpoenas are being issued, many Democrats have reported being afraid of speaking out of fear of retaliation by Sen. Menendez, who is known to be vengeful.
However, his corruption is not the only issue.
Menendez’s actions towards Cuba are simply unacceptable. He leverages his Cuban heritage and influential role as chairman of the Senate Committee to block any efforts towards normalization of relations with Cuba. Menendez has been staunchly supportive of continuing the trade embargo and travel prohibition. This contradicts the popular opinion of lifting these restrictions and our national interest in establishing peaceful and productive relations with our neighboring country. It also limits American’s access to potentially life-saving treatments.
Cuba’s innovations in medicine — including vaccines against COVID-19 and meningitis B, new treatments for lung cancer, hepatitis B diabetic foot, vitiligo and psoriasis — largely remain off-limits to US medical professionals seeking global collaboration in health care. In May of this year, 21 House Democrats wrote to President Joe Biden to lift sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela to curtail increased migration to the US borders. Instead of joining his colleagues’, Senator Bob Menendez sent his letter to the representatives “vehemently’’ disagreeing with their demands while pushing the narrative that U.S. sanctions are not behind the worsened economic conditions in Cuba and Venezuela, despite growing consensus that economic sanctions contribute to unemployment, scarcity, and general misery in targeted countries.
To be clear, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should not be led by someone with questionable ethics and hawkish positions. The Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should be someone with strong moral character, peaceful policies, and inspiring insight. Someone who recognizes the imperative of world cooperation and being a good neighbor.
And perhaps someone a little less crooked.
Michelle Ellner is a Latin America campaign coordinator of CODEPINK. She was born in Venezuela and holds a bachelor’s degree in languages and international affairs from the University La Sorbonne Paris IV, in Paris. After graduating, she worked for an international scholarship program out of offices in Caracas and Paris and was sent to Haiti, Cuba, The Gambia, and other countries for the purpose of evaluating and selecting applicants. Subsequently, she worked with community based programs design to promote productive endeavors in Venezuela and then served as an analyst of U.S.-Venezuela relations.
Samantha Wherry is a Colombia-born peace activist. She joined CODEPINK’s Latin America team after years of working alongside Colombian frontline defenders who risk their lives to protect the environment, water sources, and human dignity. She is deeply inspired and energized by those building alternative economic and social models rooted in care, reciprocity and solidarity. Samantha has lived in the US, Italy, England, Colombia, Chile and Cuba and hopes to connect, expose and mobilize around the impacts the US military-industrial complex at home and abroad.