Will Governor Chris Christie become Senator Chris Christie?
Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, faces trial this month on a variety of corruption and ethics charges. It is possible the trial could be relatively brief, and it is expected to produce a conviction.
That puts outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a very interesting position. With dismally low approval ratings, a failed presidential bid, and unsuccessful attempts to get himself a place in the Trump administration, his political career is presumed dead. The Democratic nominee for governor, former ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, is widely expected to sweep the November 2017 election to replace the term-limited Christie.
The potential early end of Menendez’s tenure in the Senate, however, could offer Christie a sudden way out.
Federal and state constitutions permit self-appointment
Under the 17th Amendment and state law, he could appoint a replacement to hold office until the November 2018 elections. That somebody could even be him.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented. Six times, state governors have appointed themselves to the Senate, or gone through the polite fiction of resigning and being appointed by their successor. Voters haven’t tended to look on such moves fondly, however. Only one of those six was able to keep their seat by winning an election in his own right.
Senator Christie could make a difference for Trump
One more Republican vote in the Senate could make a big difference, even if only for a year. After all, the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare was defeated, in dramatic fashion, by a single vote.
Moreover, an appointed senator who has no serious hope of being elected would also face little incentive to bolt from the Republican party line on key votes. They could even, like Christie, be an unapologetic Trump supporter while representing a deep-blue state.
All of this assumes that Menendez either resigns or is expelled from the Senate upon his conviction. He would not automatically be removed from office, even while sitting in a federal prison cell.
Menendez might even attempt to delay his resignation until January, when New Jersey’s newly-elected governor will be inaugurated and would, presumably, appoint another Democrat.
If Republicans move to expel him from the Senate, Democrats would be able to block it from reaching the required two-thirds. That would be an embarrassing vote, but may be more politically defensible if Menendez has publicly promised to resign in January.
It’s also possible, however, that Menendez could end up taking a plea deal that requires his immediate resignation from the Senate as one of its terms. In that scenario, Chris Christie’s political career might see a very temporary reprieve from its scheduled execution.
(Photo of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaking at an event hosted by The McCain Institute in Phoenix, Arizona by Gage Skidmore, used with permission.)