Andy Kim on Running for Bob Menendez’s Senate Seat in New Jersey – Rolling Stone

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New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim was taking his kids to their annual checkup on Friday when his phone went haywire. 

“I was in the doctor’s office with them, they were running around and being absolutely crazy, but I could feel in my pocket my phone blowing up, just people calling and texting,” he says. “I looked at it, and the first thing I saw were the images of the gold bars. I was just trying to figure out what was happening.”

What was happening was a criminal indictment against one of Kim’s own senators, Bob Menendez, who has been in office since 2006. The New Jersey Democrat and his wife were charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for the senator’s influence over both domestic and foreign issues. Those bribes included stacks of cash, solid bars of gold, and even a Mercedes-Benz convertible.  

“It feels like it takes a lot in this moment, in this country, to shock you. Sometimes it feels like we’ve gotten numb to so much craziness in our politics — but this one broke through,” Kim says. “He is my senator, he is the senator of my family, my kids. And so it just really hit me. Not just in terms of the politics and the newsworthiness, but on a personal level.”

Barely 24 hours later, Kim would make the most significant decision of his political career to date: He was going to run for Senate, against his own senator, from his own party. 

At 41 years old, Kim, the first Korean American Democrat ever elected to the House of Representatives, is serving his third term and had no immediate plans to change things up. Days before the surprise campaign announcement he gave an interview to the New Jersey Globe, where he emphasized his desire to continue working in the House, and his goals to expand into more rigorous policy work.

Shortly after the news of the indictment broke on Friday, Kim became one of the first lawmakers to call for Menendez to resign. That would be it, he thought, but Menendez’s adamant response later that afternoon that he would remain in office and was “not going anywhere” was Kim’s tipping point. 

“It felt like he was saying to me, to others, to the people in New Jersey that ‘I own this seat, this seat is mine.’ And that is just totally different than how I approach public service,” Kim says. “I just felt very frustrated and decided that his very quick and immediate and strong response to us required a quick and immediate and strong response back to him. Which is why I decided to step up to run against him the next day.” 

Kim is not alone in demanding Menendez’s resignation. As of Wednesday at least 29 senators have issued statements calling for their colleague to step aside, along with several House Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi. 

A slew of New Jersey Democrats, including the state’s governor Phil Murphy, and Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Frank Pallone Jr., Josh Gottheimer, and Bill Pascrell Jr. have said publicly that Menendez is too compromised to remain in office. Senator Cory Booker also issued a lengthy statement breaking with Menendez, who he had defended through previous accusations of corruption in 2015. 

“I still believe he, like anyone involved with our criminal justice system, deserves our presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” Booker wrote, adding that despite his belief that Menendez has a right to a fair trial “the details of the allegations against Senator Menendez are of such a nature that the faith and trust of New Jerseyans as well as those he must work with in order to be effective have been shaken to the core.” 

Kim feels similarly. “He absolutely has the right to due process,” he says. “But to be able to continue in a job that requires a public trust, that’s not something that you have a right to. … That’s not his seat. He doesn’t own it. It belongs to the people, and a lot of people have questions. I have questions. I am a constituent of his, he is my senator, and I do not have confidence from what I’ve seen, that he can continue to do this job.” 

The allegations against Menendez aren’t just about personal profiteering. They directly point to misconduct and abuse within one of the oldest and most powerful bodies in the Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee, which Menendez chaired before stepping down on Friday. 

Prosecutors allege that Menendez “provided sensitive U.S. Government information and [took] other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.” The scheme was coordinated with the aid of his wife Nadine, and Egyptian-American businessman Wael Hana, one of three indicted alongside the couple. Hana and Mrs. Menendez allegedly worked together to introduce Sen. Menendez to Egyptian intelligence and military officials. The Menendez’s allegedly received cash and other benefits in exchange for information “with respect to foreign military sales and foreign military financing.” In at least one instance, Menendez is accused of using his position on the committee to help Hana secure favorable deals for his private businesses. 

“This is about the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee potentially taking actions that would provide sensitive information to a foreign government. We need to make sure that we get to the bottom of the truth there,” Kim says. “Can [he do] his job in the Senate, when we have these questions, deep questions, about his actions, that affect not just him and New Jersey, but our country, our foreign policy, our national security? I don’t see how we have that confidence right now.” 

In Kim’s view, the charges against Menendez are not only serious enough to question his presence in Congress, but their litigation will keep the senator from fulfilling the demanding work of legislating. On Wednesday, Menendez was in Manhattan pleading not guilty to the charges. 

“I’m here, and others are here in D.C. right now, trying to avert a shutdown,” Kim says. “That’s the work of the job. But he’s not here right now, because he’s got these legal matters, and it shows you [his] attention is focused beyond the job where it should be. And New Jerseyans, we deserve a senator that can focus on the job, do the work that is needed, and not [have it] take a backseat to his own legal challenges.” 

Kim was the first person to declare an electoral challenge against Menendez, and with pressure for the senator’s resignation rapidly reaching a fever pitch, the fight to replace him will likely get messy. Rumors are swirling that Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Democrat-turned-Republican Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), and even New Jersey’s first lady Tammy Murphy might throw their hats into the race. Should Menendez resign, Gov. Murphy would be tasked with appointing a replacement to serve through the end of the senator’s term, with the next election coming next year.

“We live in a time of the greatest amount of distrust in government in modern American History,” Kim explains, “so many people losing faith in elected officials, in the process, in the system, in the political parties. And I see that as this huge threat to our democracy.”  

Kim hopes that New Jersey voters can see him in the same way he views himself, a public servant who’s dedicated their entire career to building bridges and bettering lives, his electoral record doesn’t hurt either. 

In 2020 Kim won his first re-election in a district that favored Trump, and outperformed President Joe Biden by 8 points. He credits his victories to the community he’s regularly in contact with. “I’ve won some of the toughest races, but I’ve never lost a race,” Kim said. “I can win this, we need to make sure that this seat does not fall into the hands of the Republican Party. We know what they would do with the Senate Majority … There’s so much at stake here, and we have to make sure that we protect the seat.” 

Kim  knows he doesn’t have a “magic wand” that can wave away the deep cracks in American politics, but he believes change starts with direct engagement with voters: “I go out and engage. And that’s the kind of stuff that makes governance accessible, and makes connections and shows respect for the voters, and that’s why it is that I’ve been so successful in these deeply conservative parts of the state.”

Kim has a long road ahead of him, and the first days of his campaign have been hectic, to say the least. He made the decision so quickly he didn’t even let his mom and dad know until after announcing the campaign. Amid interviews, phone calls, and logistics, he says he only just found time to explain to his six- and eight-year-old children what he is trying to do, and how their family life might change.   


To Kim, the experience of serving in elected office has been above all “humbling,” but his gratitude is buttressed by a desire to bring politics back to the people whose lives are most affected. 

“I believe that the opposite of democracy is apathy,” he said. “I hear that from some of my neighbors, their reaction to what they read about Senator Menendez, was just like ‘That’s Jersey politics. That’s just how things are.’ And I hate hearing that, it breaks my heart that our democracy has gotten to this place where we just accept things that should not be normal.”

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