Sen. Ben Cardin will hand over Foreign Relations post

Sen. Ben Cardin is losing his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ending a run that began almost three years ago with the tricky politics of the Iran nuclear deal.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey would return to the role of ranking member. Cardin took over the job in 2015 as Menendez was fighting federal corruption charges. Menendez’s trial last fall ended in a mistrial, and the Justice Department dropped those charges last week.

The move, which came a day after Cardin filed for re-election in November, is a blow for the longtime Maryland politician. The position had significantly elevated his national profile, allowing him to serve as the Democratic voice opposing President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy.

Cardin will now return to his role as the top Democrat on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, a committee with a smaller portfolio. He is expected to remain a member of the Foreign Relations, Finance, and Environmental and Public Works committees.

“It has been a privilege to serve the caucus in this role and I look forward to working side-by-side with Senator Menendez on the key national security challenges that lay ahead, particularly the ongoing threats from Russia,” Cardin said in a statement. “President Trump’s erratic foreign policy that embraces dictators and maligns our allies has forced Congress to assert a greater role in foreign policy.”

Cardin’s tenure began amid ongoing talks over the controversial Iran deal, reached in 2015 with the Obama administration and five other countries. The agreement lifted economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country's curbing its nuclear program.

Cardin ultimately voted against the agreement — he was one of only a handful of Democrats who opposed it — but he also helped to negotiate legislation that allowed Congress to review it.

He was widely seen as a more liberal alternative to Menendez, who openly sparred with President Barack Obama over his administration’s efforts to thaw relations with Cuba.

Cardin, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, helped to negotiate a bipartisan bill last year to impose additional sanctions for that country’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Trump signed that legislation, but his administration announced late last month that it would not implement the new sanctions.

The State Department said the authority to implement the sanctions called for in the legislation had, on its own, served as a deterrent.

“At a time of immense global challenges, I will make certain the committee holds President Trump and his administration accountable for its capricious and erratic approach to foreign policy,” Menendez said in a statement.

A spokesman for Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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