U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

October 7, 2023

A Week for the History Books

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

It’s been a heck of a couple of weeks at the U.S. Capitol. The news has been monumental and nonstop. Let me tell you a little about what’s been happening.

For a start, on September 27, my colleagues in the Senate officially named me as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While the circumstances of my taking on this leadership role were tragic, the challenges facing our country and the world required the position be filled immediately.

Democracy and freedom are being tested globally, especially in Ukraine where Russia’s illegal, unprovoked war continues unabated. America’s national security, which depends on effective diplomacy and international development, and a strong defense, is facing challenges that require focused and responsible leadership in Congress to work with the White House on behalf of the American people. I accepted this new role with humility and appreciation of the responsibility and trust bestowed on me. This is my second turn as the top Democrat on this important committee.

My priorities for national security and foreign policy have been consistent over the years: democracy, human rights, anti-corruption and good governance (transparency and accountability). These are values that should drive our country and, in this new role as Senate Foreign Relations Chair, I will continue to make sure that we hold fast to them in our foreign policy.

One of the very first acts of my nascent chairmanship was to exercise a hold on hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid scheduled for Egypt due to its horrific human rights record.

The United States and Egypt share strategic interests that are long-standing, harkening back to Egypt’s region-changing decision to be the first Arab nation to make peace with the State of Israel, and to its critical efforts today to de-escalate tensions in the region in pursuit of a comprehensive peace. Egypt’s stability is in the U.S. national interest, and that interest is best served when the Egyptian government is taking sustainable, concrete and meaningful steps to improve respect for the human rights of its citizens.

It is imperative that we continue to hold the government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for their human rights violations. For this reason, I intend to exercise fully the Committee’s oversight responsibilities and my authorities to hold foreign military funds and the sale of arms to the government of Egypt, if it does not take concrete, meaningful, and sustainable steps to improve the human rights conditions in the country.

As the Washington Post Editorial Board summarized, this hold sends “an important message to Egypt about its abuse of human rights.”

Assuming this new role and asserting America’s commitment to human rights would have kept me busy enough this last week, but simultaneously, the hard-right extremists in the House of Representatives were careening our nation toward a fiscal cliff in the form of a shutdown of the federal government.

On September 29, one day before the end of Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23), a shutdown was looking inevitable. The next day, a few hours before the end of FY23, lightning struck and Congress approved a stop-gap measure to fund the federal government for the first 45 days of FY24, which began on October 1. The Senate had been working on a mostly bipartisan solution. However, Speaker Kevin McCarthy had been having trouble getting his fractious Republican members to agree on anything. He then waited until the very last moment to put forward a clean extension of spending authorities that the House could pass with bipartisan support. The brinkmanship was absolutely maddening.

It should never have been this way. The Senate had been working on government funding in a bipartisan way. Following the framework negotiated by President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy an enacted this spring, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved all 12 of its spending bills with strong bipartisan or unanimous votes. This budget framework isn’t perfect, but it provided guidelines for spending that we could live within.

Unfortunately, Speaker McCarthy quickly abandoned that agreement to appease his right flank. In the end, 90 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the recent short-term Continuing Resolution (CR), choosing instead to support shutting down the government. This is not a partisan statement but a distressing recap of events.

A shutdown, which is still possible at the end of the current CR window (Nov. 17), would be reckless and costly. It would harm our economy at a time when there are still many struggles to overcome – remnants of the COVID pandemic, higher gas prices because of the war in Ukraine and more.

There are roughly 200,000 civilians and military personnel across 60+ federal agencies and facilities who work and live in Maryland. If a shutdown occurs, nearly all of them will be without paychecks for an indefinite period – along with workers nationwide. Thousands of families – not only federal workers – will lose childcare because Head Start funds will quickly dry up. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC) will exhaust its funds in just a few days, increasing food insecurity for millions of children and families. Small businesses will not be able to access new loans and other essential services. Federal contractors won’t see payments until the shutdown ends and many will need to lay off workers.

Maryland will feel the hurt harder than most states, but the impact will be nationwide. The last shutdown in 2019 cost the U.S. economy about $11 billion.

The clock is now ticking, and Congress must come together to finalize the FY24 budget and a supplemental funding package for Ukraine. Adding to the upheaval of the week, though, Speaker McCarthy was ousted by Republicans for daring to work with Democrats to keep the government funded. Precious time is being wasted because the House now stands frozen, unable to conduct any business until there is a new Speaker. There is no one with any clear authority to negotiate with the Senate and White House to finalize the spending bills.

There is no such thing as a ‘good shutdown’ and we must work diligently to ensure we aren’t back at this cliff’s edge in a few weeks. The American people are depending on us to do the right thing.

Finally, this week we laid to rest an icon of the United States Senate, my friend Senator Dianne Feinstein. One of the great honors of serving in the Senate is getting to work with and know extraordinary people like Dianne. She was an absolute powerhouse and will be remembered as one of the most inspirational leaders in the history of the Senate. She was an indomitable champion for gun safety, women’s reproductive rights and so much more. And she was tough – because she had to be – but she was also kind and generous. She served her beloved California and our Nation with determination and dignity. Myrna and I mourn her passing but are so grateful for Dianne’s lifelong dedication to public service.

Please keep an eye on the media and these emails for updates on these and other urgent topics. I thank you for your time and welcome your thoughts on these and any other topics of concern to you.


Ben Cardin