Robert Menendez Returns to Capitol

New Jersey Democrat has been absent due to public corruption trial

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., left, greets Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Menendez's first day back to the Hill since his corruption trial started. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There was a rather unexpected face walking the halls of the Senate Thursday: Sen. Robert Menendez.

The New Jersey Democrat returned to business at the Capitol Thursday for the first time since the start of his trial on public corruption charges began in Newark, N.J., on Sept. 6.

Speaking on the floor for the first time since late July, Menendez blasted President Donald Trump for what he viewed as a derelict response to Puerto Rico.

“The administration will tell you that the majority of hospitals are open, but leave out the fact that many are running on emergency generators at significantly reduced capacity,” he said. “They’ll leave out how the shortages of ambulances and fuel and functional roads have made getting to the hospital nearly impossible.”

Menendez visited the island commonwealth last Friday, saying he took an American Airlines flight of his own accord, after not being allowed to assemble a congressional delegation.

Menendez was perhaps the most biting in his floor speech in mocking Trump for tossing rolls of paper towels into the crowd in Puerto Rico.

“It’s going to take more than paper towels to help the people of Puerto Rico. In this country, we don’t turn our backs on Americans in need. We don’t complain about how much it costs to restore power to hospitals or rebuild roads in ruin,” said Menendez. “We’re the United States of America, and we’re there for each other.”

Menendez’s office highlighted the welcome he received upon returning to the Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday morning.

At the panel’s markup, the New Jersey Democrat spoke in support of a resolution that would call on Iran to release political prisoners, specifically highlighting students from New Jersey currently in Iranian prisons, as well as the still ongoing case of former FBI Agent who has long been officially “missing” in Iran. 

“These are infuriating examples of the Iranian government unjustly targeting foreigners and using prison sentences for its political purposes. The regime is seemingly not satisfied with oppressing its own people,” Menendez said at the Foreign Relations meeting.

The federal judge presiding over the Menendez trial in New Jersey declined a motion by the senator’s lawyers before testimony began to adjust the schedule to accommodate the Senate calendar.

Menendez has generally opted to be present at the Newark courthouse rather than in the Senate chamber as the trial has been underway.

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