COLLEGE PARK, Maryland – Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin on Monday criticized Donald Trump on a broad range of foreign policies, saying the president has failed to take on a belligerent Russia, is pursuing a border wall that is damaging relations with Mexico and is trying to impose a travel ban that violates American values.
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cardin spoke at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy the day before Trump’s primetime address to a joint session of Congress.
“If (his speech) is anything like his inaugural address, it will be extremely disappointing,” Cardin said. “How will he use the opportunity as the world is watching?”
Cardin has emerged as a frequent critic of Trump’s relationship with Russia. He is calling for an independent commission to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The panel would be similar to what was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Only one country has been embraced by President Trump and that’s Russia – a country that attacked us in November,” Cardin said. “This is not fake news.”
Earlier this month, Cardin also joined a bipartisan group of senators in introducing a bill aimed at creating congressional oversight on Russian sanctions relief. He preached the importance of reaching across the aisle, citing his cooperation with Sen. John McCain.
“We don’t see eye-to-eye on too many issues, but we see eye-to-eye on the threat of Russia,” Cardin said of the Arizona Republican.
For Ben Honey, a master’s student who attended the discussion, Cardin’s willingness to work with Republicans sets him apart.
“I’m happy to hear Cardin is working across the aisle behind the scenes, but I’d like Congress to be more open with that publicly,” Honey said. “Otherwise it feels like the country is completely divided and no one is listening to the other side.”
Cardin also discussed his recent conversations with Mexican leaders, during which he said he had to “repair some of the damage President Trump has done in our relationship.” Trump campaigned on building a wall along the United States’ southern border, which he promised Mexico would pay for.
Cardin said it will be difficult to work with the Mexican government on issues like immigration or drug trafficking when the president has “disrespected them.”
“We have these foreign policy challenges where the president is compromising our ability to work with our neighbors,” the senator said.
Trump’s proposed travel ban presented a similar issue, Cardin said. A week after he assumed the presidency, Trump signed an executive order suspending travel for seven majority-Muslim countries, banning new refugees admissions for 120 days and blocking Syrian refugees indefinitely.
The ban launched multiple legal battles, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the ban earlier this month.
This executive order, Cardin said, is “just not what America stands for.”
That emphasis on American values resonated with University of Maryland President Wallace Loh after the address.
“This country is built upon its core values of openness, diversity and inclusiveness,” Loh said. “His remarks made me very proud to be a citizen of this country.”