U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said yesterday that the new Republican majority in Congress will not keep Democrats from pushing progressive legislation — but that there are some conservative representatives in Washington who would “do anything” to see President Barack Obama, the nation’s top Democrat, fail in doing the same.
“Is there a universe of members in the Congress of the United States who would do anything to see the president not succeed? I do believe that,” Menendez said during an interview with local TV host Steve Adubato last night, where he appeared alongside U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
One of Congress’ senior-most ranking Democratic officials and the outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez said he will continue to work on a bi-partisan basis with his Democratic and Republican colleagues, even if the latter’s party is set to enter 2015 with a new majority after sweeping House and Senate race wins in this year’s midterm elections.
One of the most significant outcomes of that transition for New Jersey’s own political landscape is the ousting of Menendez from his chairmanship at the helm of the powerful committee, which he held only since 2013.
“What I’ve done in the last coule of years in the Senate is — look, if you want to get anything done in the Senate because that’s how it works, you have to seek a bipartisan approach,” Menendez added. “Whether in the minority or majority, I dealt with majority members. I suspect that we will have the same set of opportunities when we turn into the minority in January.”
Menedez said he helped craft the rules establishing the balance of authority between the chairman and the ranking member of the forgien relations committee, and that he “would expect that the same set of rules, that I will have a say in what meetings go forward and what nominees go forward.”
The hour long interview, which was filmed in front of a live studio audience at Newark’s NJPAC, featured Menendez and Booker offering there takes on a number of New Jersey-centric and national issues, from state minimum wage hikes to the recent shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. Booker said that shooting raises issues that should “anguish all Americans,” while Menendez called it “tragic.”
“We have a nation that has these incredible ideals that are very special in the glode and we pride ourselves on being a nation of equality and fairness and justice, but when you real look at the numbers in our legal system, you see that we don’t really have a justice system that provides justice at the levels that we want it,” Booker said.
Later, asked whether he thought that the heavy criticism directed toward Obama from the media and Republican lawmakers in recent years has been valid, Menendez offered a hearty defense of the second-term president.
“Look, I say this, that Barack Obama brought Bin Laden to justice when others only talked about it. I say that when Assad was using chemicl weapons against his people, Barack Obama, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, passing on a bipartisan basis, with John McCaine, one of the most hawkish members of the senate, and Barbara Boxer, one of the most dovish members of the senate, together to vote for the authorization of the use of military force, to give the president the wherewithal as he was headed at the time to the G20 summit to convince Putin, Assad’s benefactor, to say hey, either get rid of the chemical weapons, or I’m going to use that authorization.”
He also talked about how his views on the use of the military force has changed over the years, adding that he thinks of himself as “neither a hawk or a dove.”
He pointed out that he supported U.S. intervention in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings, but that he opposed the country’s involvement in Iraq. He said the current international crisis — involving attacks by ISIS and other terrorist groups in places like Syria — requires a more measured approach.
“This thing about toughness, the goal is not to be Rambo,” Menendez said. “The goal at the end of the day is to achieve your strategic interests, both in the national interests and those of your allies.”