a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Cardin snags Judiciary, Foreign Relations, Budget committee posts

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 15th, 2006

Off the CNN Political Ticker:

Their election victories last Tuesday handed the Democrats control of the senate for the first time in four years. So what committee assignments did incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reward them with? […]

Sen.-elect Ben Cardin, D-Maryland: Environment & Public Works, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Budget, Small Business.

These are some pretty important committees. I suppose they all are, but Budget, Foreign Relations and Judiciary seem like pretty plum, high-profile assignments; Cardin and Maryland have done very well indeed.

I don’t pretend to know enough about committees like Small Business or Environment and Public Works to draw any conclusions — although “Public Works” at least sounds like “Purple Line” to me. Outgoing Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes was on the Budget and Foreign Relations committees as well, so Cardin’s assignment there may have been a simple way not to roil things up.

But both Budget and Foreign Relations also fit Cardin’s resume: he focused on the Ways and Means Committee in the House, and the Foreign Relations committee post does fit with the two other House committees Cardin was on: the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Judging by a lengthy human rights page on his campaign web site, I think Cardin will be a good Senator to go to about those concerns; it’s also great to have a Senator who’s already a well informed participant in our relations with Europe.

From my perspective, though, it’s the Judiciary Committee assignment that is both exciting and daunting. It will put Cardin in the middle of judicial nomination fights like William Haynes II or (please, not yet) Supreme Court nominees, and also in the middle of the warrantless domestic surveillance scandal — assuming Bush isn’t successful in sweeping that under the rug in the lame duck session. As far as I can tell, Cardin essentially replaces outgoing Mike DeWine (R-OH) — a real net gain.

This is a great opportunity for Marylanders to weigh in on civil liberties, civil rights, and the Constitution itself with their own Senator; judging by at least one survey, that’s where many of us have high hopes for the 110th Congress. The caveat, if there is one, is that it’s a bit of a surprise (to me, at least) that Cardin is headed here. Neither Cardin’s own House web site biography nor his campaign web site strongly suggest it — his focus in the past has been on his Ways and Means committee position, with a strong emphasis on health care and fiscal issues.

I notice that the other freshman Senator to draw a Judiciary Committee assignment was Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).* It may be that like Whitehouse, Cardin combines political strength (won fairly comfortably) with a core Democratic stance on issues before this committee; by contrast, Casey (D-PA) once trumpeted his willingness to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) cast a disappointing vote for the Military Commissions Act. While I’m no Hill handicapper, I think Reid and Cardin made a good choice here — but one that puts a special responsibility on Maryland liberals and progressives as well.

* I’m guessing, or hoping at any rate, that Whitehouse will replace Tom “The Sterilizer” Coburn (NUT-OK), who seems to be the junior Republican Senator on the Judiciary Committee. Other interesting assignments for freshman Senators: Webb (D-VA) and McCaskill (D-MO) are both headed for the Armed Services Committee; Whitehouse (D-RI) will be on the Intelligence Committee; Casey and Webb will be on Foreign Relations. Interesting non-assignments for freshman Senators: Appropriations, Finance.

CROSSPOSTED to “Jousting For Justice” (” Progressive Politics with a Maryland Tilt”).

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