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House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar calls for Sen. Bob Menendez's resignation

Aguilar, the highest-ranking Latino Democrat in the House, took issue with Menendez’s initial response to the indictment, when he suggested he was targeted because he is Latino.
Image: Rep. Pete Aguilar
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., in 2021.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

The highest-ranking Latino Democrat in the U.S. House, House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, said Wednesday Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., should resign following the federal corruption charges brought against him this week.

Aguilar, D-Calif., broke a notable silence among Latino lawmakers in calling for Menendez, who once held Aguilar's position in the House and is considered the highest-ranking Latino in the Senate, to step down.

Menendez pleaded not guilty to all charges in a hearing Wednesday before a New York magistrate. His wife Nadine, who also is facing charges, and two other defendants pleaded not guilty as well.

Menendez is facing charges of accepting bribes in exchange for political favors. Federal officials have charged that they found several items, including nearly half a million dollars in cash in envelopes and clothing, along with gold bars, when they searched his home.

After praising Menendez's more than 50 years of public service to the people of New Jersey and lifting up issues Latinos care about, Aguilar said, "It doesn't bring me or any of us joy to say he should resign. I think he should for the betterment of the Democratic Party, for the people of New Jersey. It's better that he fights this trial outside the halls of Congress," he said.

Aguilar also took issue with Menendez's initial response to the indictment, suggesting he was being targeted because he is Latino.

"Latinos face barriers and discrimination across the board in so many categories, including in our justice system, this is not that," Aguilar said. "What we read in the indictment and the charges, we should not conflate the discrimination and the issues and barriers Latinos have in the justice system and across industries to what we see there today ... It would be best if he resign."

Before Aguilar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., had been the only other Democratic Latino congressional member to call for his resignation.

Democratic consultants, strategists and aides told NBC News that the details and evidence presented in the indictment make it difficult for them and congressional members to express support for Menendez, as opposed to when he faced a 2015 indictment. The trial on those charges ended in a hung jury.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., stopped short Wednesday afternoon on insisting Menendez resign. But he said he was "angry and disappointed" and that Menendez "has lost the trust" of his state delegation and the majority of Democratic Senate colleagues. Though he is presumed innocent under the law, Americans hold public servants to a different standard than the courts, he said.

"I urge him to deeply consider what's best for the people of New Jersey and the Senate and the institution," Padilla said.