Latino lawmakers dismiss Sen. Bob Menendez's claims that he's being racially targeted: 'This is not that'
- Sen. Menendez has argued that he's being targeted for being a "first-generation Latino American."
- Prominent Latino lawmakers are pushing back on that claim, arguing it's conflating separate issues.
Fellow Latino lawmakers in Congress aren't buying Sen. Bob Menendez's claims that he's being targeted by prosecutors for his heritage.
Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar of California — the current House Democratic Caucus chair and the highest-ranking Latino in the House — said as much on Wednesday morning as he joined calls for Menendez to resign.
"Latinos face barriers and discrimination across the board in so many categories, including in our justice system. This is not that," said Aguilar. "We should not conflate the discrimination, and the issues, and the barriers that Latinos have in the justice system, and across industries too, to what we see there today."
Facing bribery charges levied by federal prosecutors in New York, Menendez has twice argued that his Latino heritage is relevant to the allegations that he accepted bribes in exchange for corruptly benefiting the government of Egypt.
"Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a US Senator and serve with honor and distinction," the New Jersey Democrat said in his first statement after the indictment dropped on Friday.
Following calls to resign from Gov. Phil Murphy and Democrats in his home state, Menendez doubled down on that argument in a separate statement on Friday.
"It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat," he said.
Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants, and has long been a champion for Latino causes during his 30 years in Congress. He once served in the same position in the House as Aguilar, and has long described himself as the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
Insider asked several of Menendez's Latino colleagues in the Senate on Tuesday what they made of his argument, including Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.
All of them declined to specifically address the argument, but reiterated their position that Menendez is innocent until proven guilty.
"I make nothing of it," said Rubio. "I mean, I'm not going to comment on a case I know nothing about."
"Everyone's entitled to a presumption of innocence," said Cruz.
"It's gonna be up to the people in New Jersey," said Luján.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has already called for Menendez to resign, told Insider that she wanted to see a more complete explanation from Menendez.
"It's an extremely serious matter to accuse the Department of Justice of that kind of racial bias," said Ocasio-Cortez. "I think it would be helpful, if one were to make that kind of charge, to explain it."
Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas also pushed back on Menendez's claims as she called on him to resign.
"I absolutely agree there's bias in our system," Escobar told the Texas Tribune. "I don't see it in this case."
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