Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told Senate Democrats during a private lunch Thursday he will not resign from his seat despite more than half of them calling for him to do so, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said.
“He will not resign,” Manchin told reporters after exiting, adding that Menendez told members as much.
Menendez did not address whether he would run for reelection during his 15-minute address. He did not take questions, Manchin said.
“I think what we all really have to realize is the rule of law is for all of us. No matter what you may think, no matter what I may think or any of us may think,” Manchin said. “He is going to vigorously defend himself.”
Most Democratic members who attended the lunch stayed mum upon leaving the closed-door meeting, saying they wanted to keep Menendez’s talk private.
However, a few indicated Menendez did not prove to be persuasive to some who have already called for him to step aside from the upper chamber. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters as much and that he does not anticipate speaking to Menendez one-on-one about the situation.
“Certainly, I’m not of a different mind now,” Blumenthal said.
Other lawmakers hinted that Menendez’s address was a somber affair for senators who were present. When asked if he was happy with the three-term senator’s explanation for the federal bribery and corruption charges he faces, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he doesn’t think “there’s anything happy about his situation.”
“It was tough to be in there,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) told reporters. “It’s tough to see this kind of thing unfold.”
One group of senators who were not present were those who sit on the Senate Ethics Committee, including Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), the panel’s chairman. Members typically remove themselves from matters that may come before the committee in the future.
Asked what he had said at the lunch, Menendez responded, “That’s just for the caucus.”
The New Jersey Democrat is facing major headwinds from within his caucus as calls for his resignation have spanned the gamut, including leadership, influential progressives and moderates.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is the lone member of the leadership team who has not called for Menendez to step down, having told reporters he would wait to hear from him at the luncheon. He did not comment to reporters upon leaving.
Menendez has been adamant since early Friday that he will not step down despite pressure from almost all corners of the Democratic Party. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), many key House Democrats and top party leaders in Trenton have all called for him to resign on top of those in his conference.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), the first member to call for him to step aside, was among those who did not sit in on the lunch and told reporters after he would back a resolution to expel Menendez from the upper chamber.
Alexander Bolton contributed.
Updated at 3:34 p.m.