Robert Menendez indictment Senate side effects: Iran legislation and more

sot senator robert menendez indicted_00011418
sot senator robert menendez indicted_00011418

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Washington (CNN)The indictment Wednesday of Sen. Robert Menendez on corruption charges is a huge personal setback for the New Jersey Democrat who must now turn much of his focus and energy on fighting the allegations against him and ensuring he doesn't end up in jail.

But it also complicates a number of policy issues the senator is deeply involved in, including what to do about Iran's developing nuclear program, a thorny problem on which Menendez disagrees with the White House.
The second-term senator has declared his innocence, vowing to fight the charges and remain in office, although he did voluntarily decide to step down from his influential position as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    Here is a list of key areas of fallout from the charges against Menendez and what they mean:
    Iran nukes -- Menendez is the chief Democratic co-sponsor of two bipartisan bills on Iran. One would require any deal that may be reached at the multinational talks with Iran to be submitted to Congress for an up or down vote. As it stands, lawmakers have no say over the deal and Republicans -- as well as some Democrats -- are deeply suspicious the Obama administration will be able to cut an effective agreement. The second bill would impose new sanctions on Iran if a deal isn't reached.
    As the top Democrat, and former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez had given Republicans great clout and leverage in their legislative push against an Iran deal. However, he also agreed recently to a request from the administration to not take up either bill until after the talks get passed a critical deadline looming this week, something Republicans probably would not have done if not for Menendez's insistence. With Menendez giving up the key post that could put that legislation back in play, something the administration has warned could disrupt the sensitive negotiations with Iran.
    Loretta Lynch -- An aide to Menendez said Thursday the senator will vote to confirm the attorney general nominee when that comes up for a vote in the near future. Until now, Menendez had refused to say how he would vote. He had been silent on the matter out of concern of the appearance he might be trying to sway the criminal investigation against him, which Lynch would oversee as attorney general, according to people familiar with his thinking. If he said he was going to vote for her, he feared some would criticize him for trying to influence the Justice Department lawyers not to charge him. If he said he was going to vote no, he was worried it would seem like retaliation or spite against the future head of the department.
    Cuba -- Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, deeply disagrees with the Obama administration's recent decision to renew diplomatic and economic ties with the communist nation and is angry the White House held secret talks with Cuban officials without his knowledge. "We got nothing in terms of democracy and human rights," Menendez said in a January interview on CNN. "We got nothing about political freedoms." Menendez has vowed to oppose confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador to Cuba, something he will have less influence over now that he is not the top Democrat on Foreign Relations.
    Immigration -- Menendez is a key player in the immigration reform movement on the left. While efforts at a broad comprehensive bill have stalled, Menendez has been an important voice for reforms and a supporter of President Barack Obama's executive orders not to deport about 5 million people who are in the United States illegally. Moments after the indictment was announced, Frank Sharry, the head of the liberal immigration reform group America's Voice, issued a statement praising Menendez for being a "tireless fighter" for the cause.
    "My fervent hope is that Senator Menendez emerges from the current troubles stronger than ever. For he is not only the senior Senator for New Jersey; he's also the senior Senator for Latinos in America."
    Senate Democrats -- The indictment is both a black eye and a heart ache for Menendez's fellow Democrats in the Senate, many of whom have reacted emotionally to the charges against their friend. It will be a distraction as they try to counter Republicans on the myriad of issues before the Senate. In addition, if Menendez is unable to finish his term, it would be up to Republican Gov. Chris Christie to appoint a replacement. That person, no doubt, would be a Republican. That would also put Menendez's seat in play when it comes up in 2018. While New Jersey is a largely Democratic state, it also has a clear history of electing Republicans to statewide offices.