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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Menendez leaving Van Drew’s future to county chairs

Senator declines to endorse first-term congressman

By Nikita Biryukov, December 13 2019 4:12 pm

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez declined to endorse Rep. Jeff Van Drew for re-election Friday, signaling that he would follow the lead of the congressman’s county chairs.

“I don’t know that he’s going to run again, number one. Number two, there is a process. I think he’s in parts of seven counties, so seven county chairs and seven county Democratic organizations are going to go through their process to determine who they support,” Menendez said. “When that whole process is finished … then I’ll have something to say.”

Over the past week, Van Drew’s opposition to impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump has, perhaps temporarily, siphoned away support from some of the state’s Democrats.

Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman recently warned Van Drew he could not guarantee a primary victory unless the congressman reversed course on impeachment.

Van Drew was one of only two Democrats to vote against a resolution establishing procedures for the public portion of the impeachment inquiry in October, and he on Wednesday told USA Today he intended to vote against two articles of impeachment drafted against Trump.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney declined to endorse Van Drew this week, though both indicated they could back the first-term congressman down the line.

Both Democrats cited impeachment as part of the reason for their hesitation.

Menendez’s tack differed in that regard.

The Senator declined to hinge his support for Van Drew on the congressman’s impeachment votes, saying only that each member of Congress has to decide for themselves how they’ll break on “one of the most significant votes you can take in your career,” though he warned against basing that decision on politics.

“I’ll just say that when you take an oath to the constitution, you don’t get to say ‘I take an oath to the constitution of the United States when it’s politically convenient,’” Menendez said. “You take an oath to the constitution, and sometimes, the work of following that oath may bring you in a political set of circumstances that isn’t convenient.”

Van Drew’s district is a moderate one.

Republicans held it for 24 years before Van Drew won a six-point victory against former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman last year.

The congressman’s opposition to impeachment and Trump’s praise of him over the matter has spawned some speculation — speculation that Menendez said he had heard — that Van Drew could be exploring a party switch, though there’s been little else from the former state senator that suggests an incoming defection.

Local Republicans are unlikely to welcome their longtime opponent with open arms, and at least one Republican County Chairman, Marcus Karavan of Cape May County, has said Van Drew should stay where he is.

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