Bricks of gold bullion. Envelopes filled with cash. Secret meetings with an Egyptian spy.

These sordid details form the backbone of the bribery charges against New Jersey’s senior senator, Robert Menendez, a Democrat. In any other state, that would be enough drama.

But in the Garden State, the scandal has uncorked an even more powerful political tempest.

Tammy Murphy, the wife of New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, is running for Menendez’s seat as a Democrat, buoyed by political leaders who are allied with her husband and dependent on his largess during his final two years in office.

The audacious play for a highly coveted seat has prompted critics to pan her candidacy as rank nepotism.

She is up against Andy Kim, a popular three-term Democratic congressman from South Jersey, who is perhaps best known nationally for a viral photograph of him cleaning up the Capitol after the Jan. 6 riot.

And Menendez, who has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and faces trial in May, has been coy about whether he intends to seek re-election.

If Murphy is elected, two of New Jersey’s three statewide offices would be held by people who share the same mansion. Murphy was a Republican until 10 years ago and has never run for office. She would be the first woman ever elected to the Senate from New Jersey, a history-making possibility she has emphasized.

Her Senate run has been roasted on social media. She has already replaced one campaign manager, swapping in a veteran strategist who has run campaigns for former governors: Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine of New Jersey.

And the stakes are also high for Kim: He can’t compete for re-election in the House while also running for the Senate. If he loses the June 4 primary, he is out of a job.

Kim has worked to yoke Murphy to what he refers to as the state’s “broken politics,” suggesting she is tapping the same party-boss energy that nurtured and protected Menendez.

The livelihoods of many of the first lady’s most influential supporters are tied to state government, making it hard to see where their support for her ends and self-preservation begins.

Tom Malinowski, a former Democratic congressman from New Jersey who has endorsed Kim, said that town and county officials had told him that “they feel they have no choice but to support the first lady.”

There is no need, he said, for an overt threat.

“In most cases these people just assume that this is the way that the system in New Jersey works,” he said. “And if there’s a bill that they want to move through the Legislature, or a grant that they want to get, or a job that they might hold — all of that could be in jeopardy if they anger the first family of the state.”

Kim has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the way that the ballots are designed in primary elections in most of the state’s 21 counties.

The system is known in New Jersey as “the line,” and it enables Democratic and Republican county leaders to bracket their preferred candidates for every office in a single column or row on the ballot. Unendorsed challengers appear off to the side or along the ballot’s edge. Studies have shown that “the line” guides the eye of voters, and being placed on it often means the difference between winning and losing.

The line is also how county leaders maintain their power and their access to government contracts and jobs that are often seen as the spoils of political victory. The push to end it has cut to the quick of New Jersey politics.

The mayors of the state’s two largest cities, Ras Baraka of Newark and Steve Fulop of Jersey City — both of whom are running for governor next year — have come out in favor of ending the line, as have many legislators and the two other Democrats running for Senate, Larry Hamm and Patricia Campos-Medina.

Murphy, who says she is in favor of playing by the rules that currently exist, has been backed by leaders in many of the state’s most populous, urban counties, where a majority of the state’s Democrats live and where the party-boss structure is most entrenched.

The first independent poll in the race suggested that Murphy was lagging behind Kim by 12 percentage points. But the survey showed she maintained a lead among Black and Latino voters.

The race also contains more potential wild cards.

Menendez, who was arraigned on additional bribery charges this week and pleaded not guilty, could still decide to run.

And a handful of Republicans are vying for the nomination to run for Senate, too, though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 940,000 voters in New Jersey. It’s been 50 years since a Republican was elected senator in the state.

But as people following the criminal case involving Menendez might attest, nothing feels completely impossible this year.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill with broad bipartisan support that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner to either sell the hugely popular video app or be banned in the United States.

The move escalates a showdown between Beijing and Washington over the control of a wide range technologies that could affect national security, free speech and the social media industry.

Republican leaders fast-tracked the bill through the House with limited debate, and it passed on a lopsided vote of 352 to 65, reflecting widespread backing for legislation that would take direct aim at China in an election year.

The action came despite TikTok’s efforts to mobilize its 170 million U.S. users against the measure, and amid the Biden administration’s push to persuade lawmakers that Chinese ownership of the platform poses grave national security risks to the United States, including the ability to meddle in elections.

The result was a bipartisan coalition behind the measure that included Republicans, who defied former President Donald Trump in supporting it, and Democrats, who also fell in line behind a bill that President Biden has said he would sign.

The bill faces a difficult road to passage in the Senate, where Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has been noncommittal about bringing it to the floor for a vote and where some lawmakers have vowed to fight it. And even if it passes the Senate and becomes law, it is likely to face legal challenges.

Sapna Maheshwari, David McCabe and Annie Karni

Read the full article here.


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Credit: NYTimes.com

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