WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez, who is under indictment, made the best of his diminished status in international matters Tuesday, backing bipartisan changes to a measure he had co-authored regarding Iran's nuclear program.
Menendez surrendered his post as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee after being indicted April 1 on corruption charges. The New Jersey senator watched Tuesday as Ben Cardin of Maryland replaced him in the Democratic leader's chair and helped usher the revised bill to unanimous committee approval.
The legislation would give Congress a say in a pending deal meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. The White House accepted the compromise, which would shorten the congressional review period to 30 days.
Menendez denies prosecutors' claims that he used his office to help a wealthy friend who had given him gifts and campaign donations. That friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen of Florida, was indicted Tuesday in a 76-count Medicare fraud scheme.
Aside from yielding the minority party's "ranking" position on the Foreign Relations Committee, he is assuming his normal Senate role.
At Tuesday's committee session, Cardin and others praised Menendez's earlier role in crafting the Iran bill with Republicans. Menendez returned the compliments, and endorsed the final language.
"Let's send a message to Tehran that sanctions relief is not a given and certainly not a prize for signing on the dotted line," Menendez said.
Earlier, Menendez said he wasn't frustrated by his voluntary demotion on the committee. Even without the leadership post, he told reporters, "I'm playing just about any role I would, for all intents and purposes."