Ben Cardin and Steny Hoyer have been close friends and allies since they were boy wonders of Maryland politics a half century ago. But now they may be facing their greatest challenge ever: protecting the country from what they call the missteps--or worse—of President Trump.
At a meeting last week in Randallstown, Maryland business leaders quizzed Senator Cardin about Trump’s drive to round up folks without papers and kick them out of the country. Cardin defended the purported goal of getting rid of criminals but acknowledged he was taking a leap of faith in the president.
"And he gets me nervous, don’t get me wrong," Cardin confided to the gathering. "I worry about what he’s going to do every minute."
These days, that might be described as Cardin’s job. As the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the one-time speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates is now the go-to guy for reporters and others looking for some balance in the raucous Trump universe.
"It’s been really challenging, and certainly time consuming, and something I enjoy doing," Cardin said during an interview. "But, yes, the Democratic caucus looks at me for direction on how to set priorities on foreign policy issues."
He says they wonder what tools to use, what their message should be and "how we can work with Republicans for a stronger foreign policy for our nation?"
And despite his alarm at many Trump tactics--particularly the president’s heavy use of uncensored tweets to get his message out—Cardin, who is 73, says he is finding this experience energizing.
"Everyday people come up to me and what they say really motivates me," he said. "They very much believe in our system. They very much believe what America stands for and they want the Senate to stand strong for American values."
Meanwhile, Steny Hoyer, 77, who was president of the Maryland Senate during the late 70’s, is now the second ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. He’s positioned on the front lines of this chaotic clash alongside his close friend and colleague.
Hoyer contended during an interview after a Black History Month breakfast in Prince Georges County that Trump is the most polarizing president since Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign to avoid impeachment.
"So, here we are in a time when the president of the United States apparently does not fully appreciate the magnitude of the responsibilities which he has undertaken, and the responsibility to speak with a steady responsible voice," Hoyer said. "And very frankly to speak the truth as opposed to alternative facts."
Given their minority ranks in both the House and Senate, the Democrats don’t have much muscle against this Republican president, Hoyer acknowledged. But he contended their message machine is having an impact, particularly on blunting the GOP drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no apparent plan to replace it.
“I think the public sentiment is turning around,” Hoyer said.
Cardin noted that thanks to public outrage Trump has also modified several of his foreign policy positions--related to NATO, the one-China doctrine and imposing sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference with U.S. elections.
Two other Marylanders also are playing key roles in the Washington drama. Rep. Elijah Cummings is lead Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he wants to investigate possible violations of federal law by the Trump administration. Senator Chris Van Hollen is the guy in charge of boosting the Senate’s Democratic ranks in future elections.
Clearly, the Democrats have to focus their efforts on regaining the support of disgruntled voters who turned to Trump--while also attracting new voters to the fold. The next four years might just be a contest over which party the voters hate most. At least it won’t be boring.