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Week in politics: Sen. Menendez under indictment; looming government shutdown

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DAMIAN WILLIAMS: What you see here are three kilograms of gold. These three kilograms together are worth approximately $150,000.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announcing an indictment of Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey yesterday and displaying photos of gold bars. Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Senator Menendez, a Democrat, indicted again, got a hung jury the last time. What do you make of these latest allegations?

ELVING: The earlier charges involved gifts from a wealthy eye doctor. This case alleges lavish payments from the government of Egypt for aiding that country in a variety of ways. Menendez, of course, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Now, this time we have lurid and visual descriptions - solid-gold bars, a Mercedes Benz, hundreds of thousands in cash. So Menendez has already stepped down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, as required by the rules. Now, we hasten to add, as always, the accused are innocent until proven guilty. And we know New Jersey voters reelected Menendez after that earlier case, but he has to face them again next year. And 2024 could be a bad time to ask Democrats, in particular, to rally around someone who's facing indictment.

SIMON: Ron, does this indictment, in addition to all else, possibly affect which party might win a majority in the Senate next year?

ELVING: Oh, yes, certainly, if Menendez is the nominee in New Jersey. That's if he is. The Democratic governor there, Phil Murphy, has already called on the senator to resign, which would allow Murphy to appoint someone else. But for now, it's another blue state in play vulnerable to the GOP. And it comes in the same week the GOP seemed to find its preferred candidate in Pennsylvania, so the Democrats could be looking vulnerable in several Eastern and Midwestern states, plus another three in the Mountain West, while Republicans have relatively few of their own seats on the ballot at all next year.

SIMON: Let me shift to the House now, and let me ask this quite directly. Are there Republicans in the House who really want to shut down the U.S. government next week?

ELVING: It certainly appears that at least a few of them really do, and that's all it's going to take, given the narrow margin of control. This week, the hardcore resisters were voting against anything and everything that had been negotiated, whether it was between the parties or just among the leaders in their own party. Their aim is to fundamentally change what the federal government does, not just how it does it. And we must add that this cadre seems to be responding to demands from the former president. Trump was on his Truth Social account late Friday, saying Republicans should refuse to fund the government until they get Trump's policy on the border and, oh, yes, a funding cut-off for the Justice Department that would end the prosecution of Trump's indictments.

SIMON: House Republicans are also interested in impeaching President Biden. Senate Republicans don't seem to share their enthusiasm. Do you think the quest to impeach is seen by some in the House as a popular cause? And do you think there is polling information and voter behavior to suggest it may not be as popular as they think it is?

ELVING: The polling data would suggest it's a partisan cause, and it splits the country along partisan lines. So the question becomes, how do you define popular? If you're trying to please a polling sample of one and that one is your party's leader, the former president, then you can achieve something just by pleasing that audience of one. So for some Republicans, that will be enough. For others, it's another way to weaken President Biden's reelection bid next year, and they may succeed in doing that, as well. But, you know, Scott, the history of impeachment has been a tale of frequently unintended consequences. Bottom line, be careful what you wish for.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.