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Rep. Kim says he'll challenge Sen. Menendez in New Jersey's Democratic primary

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Senator Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, is facing serious charges. He's been indicted, accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables in bribes. Menendez denies these allegations and says he will fight them, but he has been forced to step aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he faces pressure to resign from fellow politicians in his home state of New Jersey. And one of them has already said he will challenge Menendez for his seat. That is Representative Andy Kim, and he is with us now. Good morning.

ANDY KIM: Good morning.

MARTIN: So you announced over the weekend in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that you would run against Senator Menendez, saying you feel compelled to run against him because, and I quote you here, "we cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity." What does that mean?

KIM: Well, it means that right now it's so important for the people of New Jersey to have representation in the Senate, have representation in government, and that is not what Senator Menendez can provide right now. He has major allegations put up against him. He's going to have to be focused on that. There are a lot of concerns about his integrity. And I think it's important that we do everything we can to restore faith from the American people in their government. So that's why I'm stepping up to run against him.

MARTIN: So he's innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and Menendez has raised this point in his defense. And also Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, has said that he has a right to due process and a fair trial. Is it your argument that he's just going to be too distracted to do his job? Or is your argument that he is just too tainted to do his job despite the fact that he has not been convicted of anything at this moment?

KIM: He is absolutely afforded due process. That is our system. But that's going to take up all of his time. You know, this is something where we need here in New Jersey, somebody that's able to focus in and actually do the job and represent my family and other families here. And that's something that I think a lot of people here in New Jersey also have concerns about - these allegations. So whether or not they can trust him and have faith in him that he's going to represent them to the best of his ability and with the integrity that is needed - that's in question right now.

MARTIN: So Menendez has said - and also speaking in his own defense - he says that prosecutors misrepresented the normal work of a congressional office. What about that?

KIM: Well, the normal work of the congressional office that I've done now in my congressional office for five years comes nowhere close to the things that we saw in those allegations, in the indictment - the gold bars, the money, the things like that that I think were shocking. And for me, from a national security background, what was talked about in terms of his engagements with other countries - most alarmingly, Egypt - those are things that are not normal. And I can tell you, that is not even close to what I've seen in terms of the work in Congress.

MARTIN: So is part of the issue here - and I just want to mention here, he has been accused of corruption before. This was back in 2015. The jury could not reach a verdict, and the charges were dropped. You could look at this in one of two ways. You could argue that prosecutors have overreached before, couldn't get a conviction, and perhaps they've overreached again. I think that's part of his argument. The other argument could be that he just walks too close to the edge and that Democrats can't risk it. Is that your point?

KIM: Well, I think my point is that, first and foremost, the job that we have in the United States Congress - it's a job whose job description is in the Constitution of the United States. That is a very humbling experience and one that demands the highest level of standard of morality, of ethics, of integrity. One should not even get anywhere near that line of seeing what we've seen in the indictment against Senator Menendez. I don't care how he's going to try to say that, you know, this is just parsing words. That is not something you should even get close to. There should be no doubt about the integrity of someone like that. So the fact that he's even saying that shows that he has a very different idea of what it means to be a United States senator than I do.

MARTIN: That is Representative Andy Kim. He is also a Democrat, which is the same party of Senator Bob Menendez. He is saying that he will challenge Senator Bob Menendez in the upcoming elections, whether the senator agrees to resign or not. Representative Kim, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

KIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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