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Top Senate Dem: Menendez an 'outstanding' senator

Sen. Bob Menenedez (D., N.J.) got a vote of confidence Tuesday from the Senate’s top Democrat, who called him an “outstanding senator” but refused to speculate on the New Jerseyan’s future.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Menenedez (D., N.J.) got a vote of confidence Tuesday from the Senate's top Democrat, who called him an "outstanding senator" but refused to speculate on the New Jerseyan's future.

Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) was asked about Menendez and the rumors of looming corruption charges five different ways Tuesday, but said little other than standing by Menendez, the ranking member of the foreign relations committee and face of Senate Democrats on international policy.

"Senator Menendez has done a stalwart job as chair of the committee, and as far as I'm concerned has been an outstanding senator," Reid said at a news conference. (Menendez was chairman until Republicans took over the Senate in January; he remains the top Democrat on the panel).

Menendez, according to multiple reports, could be indicted within weeks on charges of improperly using his office to advocate for a major a political donor, Salomon Melgen. Among the issues involved, Menendez allegedly advocated for Melgen, a Florida eye specialist, in a dispute over nearly $9 million in Medicare billing. Menendez has said he has always acted "appropriately and in accordance with the law."

Around the Capitol, one of the key questions is whether Menendez will lose his high-profile foreign relations post if he is charged. The decision would be up to Reid, but he wouldn't discuss the possibility.

Republicans have a rule that requires senators with senior positions to give them up if they face felony charges, but Senate Democrats do not. Asked why, Reid said, "beats me. I don't know."

On Sunday, the Senate's top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "typically, when these kinds of charges are brought, people step aside from their leadership positions." But he told CBS' Face the Nation "that will be up to the Democratic leader, Sen. Reid, to make that call."

Reid on Tuesday urged reporters to wait until they and the senate have "the facts."

"I try very carefully to not get into hypotheticals," he said. "Let's wait and see what happens before we start speculating about what should happen, if something happens."

Asked Monday if he is worried about losing his foreign relations position, Menendez said "I am not."

Reid has been drawn into the fray himself. As Menendez intervened in the Melgen-Medicare dispute, Reid joined him for a 2012 meeting with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Politico reported. Reid later met with federal investigators.

"I was interviewed about a year ago," he said Tuesday. "I haven't heard anything since. That's all I'm going to say."

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