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Menendez blocks 2 Biden nominees over frustration with border negotiations

Sen. Bob Menendez, accused of a bribery scheme to benefit the Egyptian government, blocked two Senate agriculture-related nominations before holiday recess.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., blocked two President Biden nominees before the holiday recess over what his office claims is a "lack of responsiveness" from the administration on border security negotiations.

Menendez, who is charged in connection to an alleged corruption scheme to benefit the Egyptian government, blocked the nominations of Basil Gooden for USDA undersecretary of rural development and Summer Mersinger, who was renominated for a commissioner role with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a spokesperson for the senator’s office reportedly confirmed to Politico. 

According to the spokesperson, Menendez is unhappy with the dearth of details from the Biden administration to himself and other Congressional Hispanic Caucus members during the ongoing negotiations with Republicans to pass a supplemental spending bill for Ukraine aid in exchange for border security funding.

Menendez wanted to demonstrate his "dissatisfaction" with the Biden administration’s current response on the border, the spokesperson added, describing how the senator indicated last week to Democratic leadership that he intended to block the nominations and proceeded to object again on Wednesday. 

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The move derailed a plan to fast track confirming the two by voice vote in the Senate before lawmakers departed Washington, D.C., for the holiday recess. 

"It is truly shameful that President Biden and his administration are considering selling out migrants and asylum-seekers in order to placate extreme Republicans who are jeopardizing our national security and that of our allies just to score a political point," Menendez said last week. 

Illegal border crossings have skyrocketed to record levels in recent weeks, during what is typically a slow migration month.

Politico noted how some saw the objection as payback to Agriculture Chair and No. 3 Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who was the first member of the Senate Democratic leadership to demand Menendez’s resignation following his indictment in September on bribery and other offenses. 

However, Menendez’s spokesperson told Politico that that suggestion was "simply not true." 

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Menendez, his wife Nadine and three New Jersey businessmen were charged in September in connection to a yearslong corruption scheme in which the high-ranking Democrat allegedly agreed to use his position to benefit the Egyptian government in exchange for hundreds of thousands of bribes, including gold bars, cash and a luxury convertible.

He has pleaded not guilty to the initial indictment and additional charges of acting as a foreign agent brought in October. Though he stepped down from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the aftermath, the defiant Menendez has refused calls from his own party members – from Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to local officials – to resign.

Authorities who searched Menendez’s home last year found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars, as well as over $480,000 in cash — much of it hidden in closets, clothing and a safe, prosecutors say. Photos in the indictment show cash that was stuffed in envelopes in jackets bearing Menendez’s name. Investigators also say they discovered a Google search by Menendez for the value of a "kilo of gold," and DNA of one man prosecutors say bribed him on an envelope filled with thousands of dollars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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