KIYC: Stakes could be high in Menendez corruption trial

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NEW BRUNSWICK -

The stakes could potentially be high when U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez goes on trial next month for corruption. Not just here in New Jersey, but across the country.

If Menendez is convicted and forced to leave the Senate, Gov. Chris Christie would get to name his replacement. The choice would almost certainly be a Republican. That could tip the balance on several important issues.

“If the seat is lost by a Democrat and gets taken over by a Republican, that is the vote they need for the health care debate,” notes Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. 

However, Koning and other analysts tell Kane In Your Corner that scenario is unlikely to happen. There is no law that a senator who’s convicted of a crime must automatically forfeit his seat, and analysts say it’s unlikely Menendez would voluntarily resign his. Instead, they say, even if he’s convicted, Menendez is likely to hold on to the seat until after Jan. 16, when New Jersey’s next governor is sworn in. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, currently leads in the polls by double digits.

“I could see him talking about wanting to appeal, I could see him staying in that seat until he safely knows and the rest of the Democrats safely know that will still be a Democratic seat,” Koning says.

Republican Senators could attempt to expel Menendez from the Senate if he’s convicted, but that strategy would also be unlikely to succeed. Expulsion requires a two-thirds vote, meaning Republicans would need the support of at least 15 Democrats.

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