Cardin On The Fence

Politico has a long article out today about Ben Cardin’s “will he or won’t he?” quandary on the Iran deal.

The exchange underscored Cardin’s quandary as Congress prepares to vote this month. A genial Jewish lawmaker from Baltimore, Cardin represents a mostly liberal state — but one that also includes a sizable Jewish population. He feels the push of a Senate caucus that overwhelmingly backs the Iran agreement — on Tuesday, two more Democratic senators, Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, came out in favor of it — and the pull of pro-Israel groups imploring him to reject it.

Only one more senator is needed to dash the GOP’s hopes of blocking the accord. But after the meeting, Cardin refused to say whether he’d be the decisive 34th vote to ensure that a resolution to kill the Iran deal would withstand a veto.

“This is not a clear decision,” said the second-term senator, who became the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member this spring after Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a staunch critic of the pact, was indicted. “For those that say it’s a clear decision, I would take exception.”

While I like and respect Cardin in many ways, I am disappointed that he has hesitated for so long on this question. And while I understand that he is wary of the division in the Jewish community, I suspect that the divide is more ideological than just about this bill. And in the Democratic electorate, which is where he would face any meaningful challenge, he would be hailed by most Jews (including me) for doing the right thing and supporting his president. As the article noted, 33 (now 34 thanks to Cardin’s Maryland colleague Barbara Mikulski) Democratic senators support the deal, while only 2 (Schumer and Menendez) oppose it.

Bottom line: whichever way you look at it, this should not be that hard a call for Ben Cardin. 

Cardin On Trade

Question: why hasn’t Senator Ben Cardin’s support for trade (both fast track authority and the bill itself) come under more scrutiny in Maryland? He has consistently sided with proponents of the deal, offering amendments and voting for the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, and speaking out about his “scars” from the President’s lobbying efforts. Strangely, despite all his votes for the bill, he voted against cloture - allegedly because he was unhappy about amendments not included as part of the bill - but then proceeded to vote for the bill moments later. That’s the opposite of the usual wishy-washy Senate approach, which is to vote for cloture - the crucial vote - and then against the bill, when it no longer matters much. With the fast track bill on its way back to the Senate, pay close attention to Cardin’s words and actions. They may be critical to the ultimate success - or more hopefully, failure - of the President’s trade agenda in the coming days and weeks.

I have to believe that state labor organizations and advocates are paying attention. While Cardin isn’t on the ballot until 2018, he will be 75 years old that year, and will have been in elected office for 52 years, since his election to the House of Delegates at age 23. Still very popular, there has long been speculation - way way before I started this perpetual rumor mill - that Cardin might not run for a third term. He’s not exactly endearing himself to labor recently, a key constituency in any Maryland statewide race. And he has a relatively paltry amount of cash on hand for an incumbent senator (approximately $690,000), which should only increase the speculation.

I know, just what we need - we’re still gearing up 2016, and here I am throwing gasoline on the fire for 2018. But hey, I live to serve. My Father’s Day public service announcement.

NOTE: I’m traveling today so I didn’t have the time to put the links in for this article - rest assured that I found and reviewed them. But if you have any questions about the particular votes or other data I’ve cited, I will put up a revised version in the next several days, and in the meantime feel free to ask me for any particular cites.