Bob Menendez grew up the son of immigrants in a tenement building in Union City. A product of New Jersey's public schools and a graduate of the state's universities, he has served as a school board member, a mayor and a state legislator. Since 1992, he has been fighting for New Jersey families in Washington, where he rose to become the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives before taking office in the Senate in 2006.
In Congress, he has fought to make health care more affordable for New Jersey's families and to improve schools so they prepare our children for a successful future. Now he is fighting to make college more affordable for the next generation of leaders. After September 11, 2001, Bob earned national recognition for his leadership in reforming the country's intelligence and public health systems and for fighting to establish an independent commission to investigate the terrorist attacks on our country. Today, he is working to improve the security of our bus, rail and public transit systems.
Elected by his colleagues in 2002 as the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Bob Menendez became the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congressional history. He previously served as the Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus and has led key Task Forces on Education and Homeland Security. After being appointed by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Bob was sworn in to the Senate on January 18, 2006. In November of that year, New Jerseyans elected Bob to serve a full six-year term as United States Senator. He currently serves on the Senate Committees on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; Budget; and Foreign Relations. Bob is also the Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection.
Question: How is working in the House of Representatives different than working in the Senate?
Robert Menendez: Very different. In the House of Representatives, an institution of 435 people that is incredibly diverse, getting enough people in common cause – 218 people to pass anything – is a real challenge. But particularly one of the big differences between the House and the Senate is if you’re in the House of Representatives, and if you happen to be in the minority party, whatever that might be – whether it’s Republicans now or Democrats in the past – it’s almost an abject minority because the rules of the House control the process in such a way that the majority largely controls everything primarily through a traffic cop called the Rules Committee. And in doing so, that committee, which is a super majority . . . The majority controls what gets to the floor of the House of Representatives . . . under what way it’s debated, how much time, what amendments and all that. So . . . And it can even change the legislation that you may have gotten out of another committee that ultimately comes before the Rules Committees. The Rules Committee can say, “You know what? We’re gonna re-write this bill, and we’re gonna send it to the floor in a different way.” So in the House of Representatives, not only is getting common cause a much more difficult challenge because you need 218 votes, but you also have the differences between a majority and a minority, with a minority facing enormous hurdles to have its views or propositions to be voted on. In the United States Senate, not only, of course, is it a smaller institution – 100 members – but the powers given to an individual Senator can make a minority Senator one in which they play a majority role. And because there is no traffic cop – the Rules Committee – and so much moves in the Senate by what we call unanimous consent, it just means that. There has to be unanimity among the 100 members to have something move forward. And one Senator can get up and object.
Robert Menendez: I had an early experience of that upon coming to the Senate where there was legislation in the final days of the Republican Senate in 2006 that wanted to change and authorize Ryan White funding, which is important. It’s about AIDS prevention and how we help the HIV affected community. And it was going to be done in such a way that clearly would have hurt my state of New Jersey in ways that I could not tolerate on behalf of that community. And it was in my power then as a minority. . . part of the minority party, but as an individual Senator to say, “I object”; and by my objections, stopping a process that until a negotiation took place with me that changed the course of events; that made that legislation and its reauthorization far more acceptable to those people who suffered with HIV/AIDS in my home state of New Jersey. It’s an example of how even a member of the minority party in the Senate can have a disproportionate opportunity to affect the course of events than a minority member of the House of Representatives.
Recorded on: 9/12/07