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Sen. Ben Cardin to assume chairmanship of Foreign Relations Committee after indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez

Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to officials with direct knowledge of the plans.

Cardin, a Democrat who announced in May that he will not seek reelection in 2024, will replace New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who was indicted Friday on federal charges that he accepted bribes in return for using his position to aid several businessmen and the government of Egypt.

An announcement is expected next week, according to officials who declined to be named while the transition is underway.

Menendez, a Democratic contemporary of Cardin’s who served in the U.S. House with him for nearly a decade, stepped down from the chairmanship following the indictment but did not resign from the Senate.

It won’t be the first time Cardin, 79, will succeed Menendez, 69. In 2015, he replaced Menendez as the committee’s Democratic leader after the New Jersey politician was indicted on federal bribery and conspiracy charges that ended with a deadlocked jury in 2017.

In a statement Friday, Cardin said Menendez “has left his mark on American diplomacy and national security as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, especially, as chair.”

Cardin said he encouraged people “to allow the legal process to move forward without prejudice. Sen. Menendez has a right to respond aggressively in court to the current charges, and I am confident that he will do so.”

Some others, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, also a Democrat, urged Menendez to resign. Menendez said in a statement that he has no plans to leave the Senate.

The Foreign Relations Committee plays a significant role on a range of international issues, including policy toward China, and support for Ukraine in its defense against Russia.


Fellow Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen is also on the committee. Idaho Sen. Jim Risch is the panel’s top Republican.

Cardin has long emphasized foreign relations. He lists among his top achievements a 2016 law he championed with John McCain, the late Republican senator from Arizona, to allow the United States to sanction foreign officials who commit human rights violations and ban them from entering the country.

It is uncertain if Cardin will now give up his chairmanship of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee as part of this move. Under Cardin, the committee pushed legislation to help small businesses in Maryland and around the nation recover from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

There would be Senate precedent for giving up one committee chairmanship to focus on another. But Small Business is not an “A-level” panel — it has no subcommittees — and it is possible Cardin could lead both simultaneously.

Cardin’s office referred The Baltimore Sun’s questions on Saturday to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose spokesperson declined to comment.

Cardin said last spring that he won’t seek reelection next year, ending a nearly six-decade run in Maryland politics and creating a scramble to fill a rare vacancy in the closely divided Senate.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, U.S. Rep. David Trone, and Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando are among those seeking the seat. All are Democrats.

Democrat Jerome Segal, a Montgomery County activist, is also in the race, along with Democrat Steven Seuferer of Montgomery County. Other candidates who have filed include Republican Ray Bly of Howard County, and Moshe Y. Landman, a Green Party candidate from Montgomery County.

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