WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ben Cardin will be named the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, taking over the position following the indictment of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democratic spokesman confirmed Thursday.
The announcement, which had been expected, came minutes before President Barack Obama unveiled was he described as an historic agreement with Iran following months of talks -- an effort that has received criticism from several committee members.
A spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid confirmed Cardin will take over the position.
The move ultimately must be ratified by the caucus when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill later this month. In a brief interview Thursday morning, Cardin said a quick resolution to the opening left by Menendez's indictment would allow him to get to work more quickly on the pressing business of the Iran agreement.
"Because of the current work load of the committee there will be need for work being done during this recess," Cardin told The Baltimore Sun. "I hope I'll be given the ability to go ahead and start getting that done as early as today."
The post is a major step for the Maryland lawmaker, who was first elected to the Senate in 2006. If Democrats reclaim control of the chamber in 2016 -- as some believe the party has a chance to do -- Cardin would become the chairman of an influential panel.
The next most senior Democrat after Menendez is Sen. Barbara Boxer of California. But she is expected to retain her ranking position on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
After Boxer, Cardin has the most seniority.
Cardin has become increasingly vocal on international affairs. A former co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe -- the so-called Helsinki Commission -- Cardin has become a leading national voice on human rights around the world.
He strengthened that position in 2012 when he successfully steered legislation through Congress to pressure Russia on human rights abuses, despite concerns from Moscow and the Obama administration.
Menendez and committee chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, have been building support for a bill that would give Congress 60 days to review any deal -- a proposal that is expected to advance this month despite opposition from the White House.
Cardin, a longtime supporter of Israel, did not co-sponsor the Menendez-Corker bill but said Thursday that he is generally supportive of it. He also said he expects the legislation to advance this month, depending on what the Obama administration announces Thursday.
"I think congressional review is appropriate," Cardin said. "I want to work out some of the concerns the White House has."