How do you assess the Trump administration so far?
Cardin: Donald Trump has shown over and over again that he doesn’t have the temperament to be president or act “presidential.” He doesn’t have an understanding of how important his words are. He doesn’t listen to advice and he has little aptitude for strategy unless it benefits himself personally. He continuously puts his own self-interest before the needs and national security of our country. He has repeatedly, intentionally misrepresented facts and events. His decision on day one not to transfer his business assets into a blind trust violated a fundamental protection in the constitution.
Do you support or oppose the federal tax cuts passed in 2017? What effect do you believe they will have on the economy?
Cardin: Oppose. This tax bill is not good for our economy and is bad for middle-income families. Former self-proclaimed deficit hawks allowed this immense amount of debt to be added to our nation’s economy, meaning our grandchildren will be paying the interest on the interest for what was borrowed to pay for this permanent tax cut for corporations. At its heart, this bill was targeted toward large corporations and wealthier individuals. The provisions aimed at small businesses and working families were, by comparison, small and temporary. I am concerned that this bill will only widen the gap between wealthy Americans and middle- or low-income Americans. This tax law also is an attack on states like Maryland. Many Marylanders will come out much worse under this bill. In addition, the cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes is going to make it more challenging for state and local governments to meet their needs, the primary functions of which are to keep our communities safe and educate our children.
Is the level of national debt a concern? What, if anything, should be done to reduce it or constrain its increase?
Cardin: Yes, it is a grave concern. For example, in their recent tax bill, the Republicans added over $1 trillion to our national debt. This cannot continue. It will not grow our economy. Debt reduction cannot be a one-sided equation. We need to invest in places like infrastructure and education, which foster job creation and an educated workforce. While we need to prioritize spending, protecting programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be my priority. We cannot simply take a hatchet to programs. For example, improving the way we deliver health care (see answer to question 11) can slow down the rate of growth of mandatory health spending, helping us to reduce the deficit. The task of deficit reduction is not going to be easy, but we need a bipartisan commitment to control spending – both discretionary and mandatory – and have necessary revenues to control the deficit and, over time, balance the budget.
Is the level of economic inequality in the United States a problem, and if so, what should the federal government do to address it?
Cardin: Yes. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the rate of millionaires in this country grew five times as fast as the general U.S. population during the period of 1983-2016. There are now more than 9 million households with a net worth over $1 million. While it is positive that more families are succeeding, it overlaps with data from the Pew Research Center and others that show middle-income families shrinking as they fall into lower income levels. America’s middle class – middle income families – has always been at the heart of our economy. Congress must take concrete actions to address the growing issue of income inequality, ensuring that quality education, housing, and health care are available to all Americans. A family should be able to afford a college education for their children without going into debt. We must foster programs and investments that make it possible for anyone who wants to work to find the opportunities available with the wages and benefits that can support a family. We need to invest in skills training to match workers looking for jobs with employers struggling to fill millions of specific positions. There are still far too many hardworking Americans struggling paycheck to paycheck. We also need to help Americans better plan for retirement so that after years in the workforce, people can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Should federal gun laws be changed, and if so, how?
Cardin: Yes. Gun safety laws work. The overwhelming majority of Americans support stronger gun laws, which includes responsible gun owners who care about the safety of their communities. The NRA should not control the outcome of this debate. I’ve listened to students across Maryland. They want to know they are safe in their schools and their neighborhoods. They are pleading with adults to act like adults and take action. We cannot wait for the cycle of violence to repeat again and again without making a change. At a minimum, we must close the loopholes so that EVERY gun purchase includes a completed background check. We also must renew the assault weapons ban – there is no reason for such weapons of war to be in civilian hands. And we must block efforts to arm our teachers – the solution to the problem of daily gun violence and school shootings is not to bring more weapons into our schools. I agree with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that we must devote more resources to mental health priorities to identify young people (and adults) who may be about to cause harm to themselves or others. Let’s attack this problem from multiple directions. Inaction is not an option.
What should Congress do with respect to the Affordable Care Act? Should it be strengthened, and if so, how? Should it be scrapped? If so, what if anything should replace it?
Cardin: Health care is a human right and universal coverage is essential. We should have seamless quality health care, affordable to all, from prenatal to death. The Affordable Care Act put us on a path toward this goal, however, Republicans have done everything possible to sabotage markets and the system since it became operational. The president’s actions to weaken the individual market and cut support and outreach programs for the ACA has hastened some problems. Increasing the affordability of health care and improving our health system should not be a partisan fight. Congress should continue its work to stabilize health insurance markets to ensure that every American has full coverage. Having health insurance coverage is not enough. It must be affordable, accessible, and the quality of covered benefits, including consumer protections for patients, cannot be compromised. Accessibility is essential. Far too many people across Maryland are unable to access the full range of care they need because of where they live. Federally funded community health centers – 17 across Maryland – help fill the gaps in our provider networks by coordinating primary and preventive services that promote reductions in health disparities for low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, rural communities and other underserved populations. I have also supported legislation that would expand telehealth services, which makes it easier for patients to connect with their health care providers and helps cut costs for patients and providers.
What role should the federal government play in helping cities like Baltimore?
Cardin: I was born and raised in Baltimore. This is my home and I will do everything in my power to help it grow and succeed. Similar to the boost created by the Obama Administration, there should be an ongoing all-of-government approach to helping Baltimore. Bolstering public safety and law enforcement, including robust federal support for the current consent decree with the Baltimore City Police Department, is important, but will only succeed in the long-run if paired with economic development and job training. The federal government also should provide tax credits and additional resources for infrastructure projects that support both commercial and residential growth. The federal government must be an unwavering partner in providing access to affordable, quality housing and health care, including mental health care and support for combatting opioid addiction. Congress has a responsibility to adequately fund the Every Student Succeeds Act, which helps ensure that City Schools and other urban school systems nationwide have the resources they need to provide students with career opportunities in STEM education, adequate mental health supports, and investments to support our neediest students. The federal government has a responsibility to continue investing in programs that help foster job creation, help small businesses compete and grow, while still protecting and supporting our children, our seniors, clean air and clean water. The federal government has an important role to play in promoting public health and public safety. This is as essential in our cities – including Baltimore – as in rural and suburban areas.
What can Congress do to address the opioid epidemic?
Cardin: Maryland is not immune from the American drug epidemic, particularly the prescription opioid misuse and heroin addiction that has spread throughout every corner of our country. It is a public health crisis and must be addressed with every available resource at all levels of government. Tackling this challenge should go beyond efforts of law enforcement and must include sufficient funding to improve access to evidence-based treatment centers, promote prevention education methods, and provide support for those in or seeking recovery. We must keep our promise of federal funding for state-led treatment, prevention and law enforcement, education and outreach programs. We must work with medical professionals to limit prescriptions of opioids and encourage alternate methods of pain management. We need to invest in innovative programs that have worked in Maryland, including peer services for those in need of care. Congress came together to secure $10 billion to fight this crisis in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The omnibus spending bill dedicated $3.3 billion in additional funding to address mental health services and coordinate efforts across agencies. I am hopeful this funding will provide resources to state and local governments to raise education and awareness, bolster treatment programs and facilities, and ensure that safe overdose countering drugs like Naloxone are readily available at all times. Congress also made headway reversing President Trump’s proposed 27% cut to America’s global counter-narcotics efforts, which would have weakened our ability to work with international partners to stem the illegal flow of drugs entering our country.
What changes if any should Congress make to our immigration and deportation laws and policies?
Cardin: I believe the Senate should again take up bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken immigration system. Congress must pass legislation to permanently protect Dreamers who are in this country and have mostly known no other country but this one. We also must take up and pass legislation I have introduced with Senators Van Hollen and Feinstein to create a legal pathway to residency for Temporary Protect Status (TPS) recipients, who also only seek a better life for themselves and their families, enriching our country and all that it stands for in the process. I was in the Senate in 2013 when we passed comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform. I believe it is possible again. We should not be wasting money on a fruitless wall, but we can strengthen technology and other border security. We can create a fair pathway to citizenship for those living in the shadows. For public safety, we must continue to effectively screen all who enter our country. We also must fight back against the Trump proposal to slash legal immigration, break up families and mostly close America’s doors to refugees. Turning away legitimate asylum seekers at the border, and requiring mandatory detention of families and children, will do nothing to make America safer.
Should the United States continue with the free trade policies it pursued for the last several decades, or should it enact restrictions in an attempt to help domestic industries?
Cardin: We are in a global economy and American producers, manufacturers and farmers can compete if given a level playing field. We must engage in international trade, but it must be done right. Our free trade agreements and policies should be focused on providing enforceable protections related to workers’ rights, human rights, and the environment, and addressing serious imbalances, including through currency manipulation and anti-corruption measures. Our global economy has seen significant changes since, for example, NAFTA was first negotiated. We are facing new and different challenges that affect our businesses and our workers at home. Our domestic industries are facing different threats, including challenges from other countries related to market access and innovation. Our trade agreements and our approach to trade should reflect these changes.
Do you support the Iran nuclear deal?
Cardin: I ultimately did not support the US-Iran deal three years ago because I felt that the JCPOA legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, leaving Iran with the option after 10 to 15 years to produce enough enriched fuel for a nuclear weapon in a short time. However, since it was enacted, I have made clear that my priority is to ensure that America is good for its word and that the government has all the necessary tools to implement the agreement to its fullest. Particularly since President Trump took office, I have been one of the leading voices in the Senate to keep the US-Iran deal intact, provided Iran is in compliance. I have also worked directly with the White House national security team to explore solutions to keep us in the agreement. We don’t want the United States to be the one who walks away from preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. We would be isolated, and we’d give strength particularly to Russia and China. That makes no sense at all. What we should be doing is enforcing sanctions against Iran for its non-nuclear violations, its ballistic missile tests, its support of terrorism, its human rights violations. Unfortunately, President Trump has failed to implement the sanctions on Iran passed overwhelmingly by Congress last July and has chosen a path that makes addressing all other elements of a comprehensive Iran policy more difficult by alienating our allies and making it more difficult for them to work with the U.S.
How should the United States address the rise of North Korea’s nuclear program?
Cardin: The only workable solution to resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis is through diplomatic negotiations. The use of force would have catastrophic consequences. Last year, I called for a “diplomatic surge” with regards to North Korea. The opposite of diplomacy-by-tweet, it would provide an opportunity for collaboration with China and our Japanese and South Korean allies, leading to a place where Pyongyang could verifiably halt its nuclear and ballistic missile testing and we initiate negotiations toward denuclearization. By concentrating on denuclearization, and not regime change, diplomacy can succeed.