U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) predicts Congress will reach agreement this week on a measure to keep the government funded through March, avoiding another government shutdown.
Cardin, 74, formally filed to seek a third term earlier this week. He faces a Democratic primary challenge from Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who passed government secrets to Wikileaks. A Potomac businessman, Neal Simon, announced this week that he would seek the Senate seat as an independent.
It was also announced this week that Cardin will soon have to relinquish his position as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He assumed the position in 2015 when the former ranking member, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D), was indicted on federal corruption charges. The case ended in a mistrial last fall, and the Justice Department last week said it would not seek a second trial.
Cardin will instead become the ranking member on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, though he will remain on the Foreign Relations, Finance and Environment and Public Works committees.
Cardin talked about several issues — including the president’s seeming embrace of a shutdown and his eagerness for a military parade through Washington, D.C. — with Maryland Matters senior reporter Bruce DePuyt on Tuesday evening. Their conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Maryland Matters: The president said [Tuesday] that if Democrats won’t relent on immigration issues, “I’d love to see a shutdown.” Your reaction?
Cardin: Those comments were extremely unhelpful. Every time we get close to a bipartisan agreement on immigration, the president does things to make it much more difficult. He is the one who created the problem. He is the one who put the date on the backs of the Dreamers and set up the crisis in March. Now that we have bipartisan negotiations taking place that are making progress, he does things that make it less likely we will ever reach an agreement. And it’s just incredible that the president is not showing leadership to really bring us together on an important issue.
MM: The White House walked back Mr. Trump’s remarks, and not for the first time. Is it hard to negotiate when they’re all over the map so frequently?
Cardin: The answer is absolutely yes. And what makes it so difficult on the immigration issues is that a large number of Republicans are looking to the president to see where he is on it. And it’s an issue in which the president has incited a large percentage of his base. Quite frankly the president has used misinformation and has stirred up anti-immigrant sentiment that makes it difficult to reach agreement. And you never know where he is. One day he says the bipartisan agreement is fine, the next day he undercuts you with a tweet, the other day he says, ‘let’s have a government shutdown.’ So yes, it makes it extremely difficult to negotiate.
MM: The House passed a stopgap measure to keep government funded that included an increase in military spending. The Senate is expected to pass something different. Do you think the differences can be reconciled by Thursday?
Cardin: Yes, I think they can be. Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell have engaged a whole host of us — just about everybody in our caucus — in trying to resolve some of the big issues on the budget, and therefore the CR, although it will be necessary, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, that we’ll actually be able to get a budget done within that period of time. And that’s what I hope the Senate will do.
MM: I’m not sure people outside government fully understand the costs of governing by CR in terms of agency operations, or the impact on contractors. Can you talk about that?
Cardin: I just left a briefing with the secretary of Defense. It was in a closed session so I can’t go over what the briefing was about. But I can share with you the comments that he’s made publicly, that he cannot efficiently run the Department of Defense by continuing resolution. He needs to have contractors who are prepared to make the investment to modernize our military and they can’t operate on a continuing resolution. They can only operate under the certainty of a budget. The same thing’s true if you’re at NIH or any of the other agencies, and you’re trying to make an investment on a project.
MM: The Washington Post is reporting that the president wants a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and the Pentagon is reportedly looking at dates. Is this the best use of taxpayer money — and is the president trying to back Democrats into a corner?
Cardin: It’s not the most efficient use of our monies. We should never make partisan our support of our men and women in uniform. It’s wrong for the president to politicize that. It’s absolutely wrong to do that. We’ve seen bipartisan support and we want to maintain that. Parades are fine, but what is he doing this for? Is he trying to do what we see in some of the more autocratic countries where the leaders want to show their physical prowess by parading their military? Usually you see that in countries that aren’t of the stature of the United States of America. They want to show the rest of the world their might. Like North Korea. The United States doesn’t have to show off its might. We know what we can do. So I’m not sure what the purpose of that would be, and it’s expensive.