Menendez plans Puerto Rico donor retreat amid Democratic fears over his reelection plans

Sep 29, 2023, 8:00 AM

Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, is seen here during a Senate Banking, Housing, and U...

Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, is seen here during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on May 16. Photo credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

(CNN) — He may be facing bribery charges and calls for his resignation from more than half of his Senate Democratic colleagues. But donors can still hit the links and dine with Sen. Bob Menendez at a luxurious beachside hotel – for a price.

A political action committee tied to Menendez is hosting donors in two weeks for an evening reception with the senator and his chief of staff at the Ritz-Carlton hotel at Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico – a move likely to prompt Democratic fears that the embattled senator will try to hang onto his seat despite his criminal charges.

On Thursday, just as Menendez went behind closed doors to inform Senate Democrats he would not resign and proclaimed his innocence, a representative with the New Jersey Democrat’s leadership PAC wrote to donors that the event was still on, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by CNN.

The message confirmed that the mid-October retreat, hosted by the New Millennium PAC, was still happening “in light of recent events.”

As part of the two-day event: A Friday evening welcome reception with Menendez at the Ritz, followed by a Saturday morning golf outing with the senator on the East Course, a championship-level course with views of the ocean and lush greens and fairways. There’s lunch with the senator’s chief of staff that day followed by a farewell reception with the senator in the evening.

Officials with the leadership PAC and Menendez didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The news comes as Menendez has been coy about his reelection plans, despite facing corruption charges and unseemly allegations that he used his powerful perch to aid three businessmen and the government of Egypt in exchange for cash, a luxury car and gold bars. Menendez, along with his wife, Nadine, and other co-defendants, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Democrats are concerned that if Menendez runs for reelection, he could jeopardize a once-safe seat in a blue state at a time when their party is already facing a difficult map to keep their narrow majority in 2024. Menendez is already facing a primary challenge from Rep. Andy Kim.

Sen. Gary Peters, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who has joined 29 of his Democratic colleagues in calling for Menendez’s resignation, has not said if he would support the embattled senator if he runs for a fifth term next year. The campaign committee typically supports incumbents.

“Our focus will be to make sure that we hold these seats,” Peters, a Michigan Democrat, told CNN. “I think we’re a long ways from knowing what the landscape is gonna look like in New Jersey. We don’t even know if he is going to run or not.”

Asked by CNN on Tuesday if he would run for reelection next year, Menendez refused to say.

“I’m here to do the work for the people of New Jersey,” Menendez said.

On Thursday, Menendez made a similar case to his Senate Democratic colleagues, going behind closed doors to emphatically tell his colleagues he wouldn’t resign as he maintained his innocence and asked not to be judged by them before he’s had a chance to present his defense, according to people in the room.

But he didn’t say if he would run again, as he argued that prosecutors have tried repeatedly to pin charges against him but failed to prove their case. Menendez even suggested he was disappointed by one senator, though he didn’t name him, but senators believed he was referring to John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who has leveled some barbs against Menendez as he’s called on him to resign.

Senators in the room came away with the impression that Menendez could very well run again.

“He was emphatic he wouldn’t resign,” one senator told CNN.

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Menendez plans Puerto Rico donor retreat amid Democratic fears over his reelection plans