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GOP Launches Campaign Pushing Democrats for Ouster of Sen. Bob Menendez if Convicted in Corruption Trial

The start of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez's federal corruption trial Wednesday has hung a question mark on the future of his Senate seat, and national Republicans have already begun pushing for his ouster if he's convicted.

The Republican National Committee rolled out a campaign this week aimed at pressuring Democratic senators to call on Menendez to step down if he's convicted.

The campaign includes a Snapchat filter available near the courthouse that has a banner saying "Bye Bye Bob Menendez" as well as an airplane, an apparent reference to what prosecutors say was the senator's acceptance of lavish trips to the Caribbean and Paris in return for helping Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen with lobbying.

Menendez denies any wrongdoing and said outside the courthouse Wednesday that he never "dishonored" his public office.

The RNC also released a web video that shows then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama calling for Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska to resign after he was convicted of corruption in 2008. "Why would it be any different now?" the video asks.

Stevens' conviction was later thrown out, and he died in a 2010 plane crash.

Expulsion from the Senate isn't guaranteed if the two-term senator from New Jersey is convicted. Two-thirds of senators would need to vote him out of the upper chamber, meaning that 15 Democratic lawmakers would have to side with the 52-seat Republican majority.

Menendez is up for re-election next year. If he leaves the Senate before Gov. Chris Christie leaves office Jan. 16, the Republican governor would pick a successor.

In New Jersey, Democrats stand behind Menendez. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has stood with Menendez and touted his endorsement in this year's campaign to succeed Christie, who is term limited. Murphy declined to say Wednesday whether senators convicted of crimes should resign, but he pointed out that he has long stood by Menendez.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has also defended Menendez and was in court to support him on Wednesday. Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney said recently it's too early to even consider scenarios for succeeding Menendez because he believes the senator is innocent.

Murphy and his wife have donated $18,100 to Menendez's legal defense fund and Senate campaign since the indictment, and Booker's political committee donated $10,000 to his legal defense fund in 2015.

Christie has said that Menendez is entitled to the presumption of innocence. He has declined to speculate on who he might appoint if he gets the opportunity, though it's widely assumed he would pick a Republican. That could prove crucial in a closely divided Senate where President Donald Trump has struggled to have his priorities passed, including repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

"Chris Christie would clearly appoint a Republican," said Robert Torricelli, a Democratic former U.S. senator from New Jersey. "Given the history of New Jersey voters in electing people who support health insurance, there's some obligation to not appoint someone who would cast a vote in the U.S. Senate against the interest of New Jersey."

Menendez said he plans to be at the trial daily but will decide whether to return to Washington based on the issue and on whether his vote could make a difference.

He has long fought for children brought to the country without proper immigration to remain here. After the Trump administration on Tuesday set a six-month clock on dealing with the Obama administration policy, Menendez said Trump has "chosen once again to cloak his presidency with a white nationalist flag instead of the diverse fabric of our multicultural American society."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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