Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) may be in the business of sponsoring and voting on bills in Congress, but last week his job description also included that of consoler to Maryland’s Jewish community amid concerns over anti-Semitism, hate crimes and other fears expressed over the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
He tried to assuage the concerns of the 170 people who were attending the Jewish Community Relations Council’s annual legislative breakfast at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac. Topics they brought up included the president-elect and his rhetoric toward various ethnic groups during the campaign, as well as the recent increase in hate crimes seen around the area.
“Many of you have asked how I’m doing. I’m still grieving from the election,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told the crowd.
Cardin was one of four speakers, including Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R), Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner and Washington Post political editor Debbi Wilgoren.
Cardin said he has received many phone calls since Election Day from people worried about President-elect Donald Trump’s remarks about minority groups. Cardin assured the audience that he would not stand idly by if the Trump administration established a registry for Muslims.
“When someone says there’s going to be a religious test, I’m going to stand up and do everything in my power to make sure that never happens, and I need support,” he said.
Last week, Cardin introduced a resolution in the Senate requiring Trump to divest from all of his business activities, based on the Constitution’s emoluments clause that prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts from overseas without the consent of Congress.
Trump has said he plans to set up a “blind trust” for his business. But because his children would be in charge of the trust and are also members of the presidential transition team, Cardin does not think it goes far enough.
“What he needs to do is have an independent manager of his business or divest from his business, it cannot be someone who has access to the Trump administration,” he said in an interview before the event.
Trump has said he will provide more details about the issue at a press conference on Dec. 15, but Cardin said his resolution was important as “an expression of Congress that President-elect Trump needs to deal with this before he takes the oath of office.”
Cardin noted that ethical standards were important to the founders who wrote the Constitution.
“There was a real fear at the time that you’d have foreign governments trying to corrupt our system,” he said. “That was happening in Europe. It’s still happening today when you see foreign powers such as Russia trying to influence other countries, so that’s not a hypothetical.”
Cardin said he hopes that despite his and others’ concerns about Trump, the country will heal divisions that have persisted after the election. When asked in which direction the Democratic Party might shift, Cardin seemed unsure, but said he hopes people understand that every vote makes a difference.
“I think we have to do a much better job in articulating and demonstrating that there’s a real difference between the Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
Cardin was asked by an audience member for his opinion of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who is seeking to be the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Ellison, the only Muslim in Congress, has been critical of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Cardin praised Ellison for his public service, but pointed out that his views are at odds with those of most Americans.
“He has views on Israel that I don’t find acceptable,” Cardin said. “He has voted and done things that I think are contrary to what should be the U.S. position in the Middle East and he represented that view on the platform committee at the Democratic National Convention.”
The room was relatively calm throughout Cardin’s speech. But tensions surfaced during Rutherford’s response to Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg, who raised the issue of school bullying, vandalism, and discriminatory behavior and remarks against undocumented immigrants in Montgomery County since Trump’s election.
Rutherford said the best thing for people who are victimized to do is to report incidents to local police. When he added that the recent rash of incidents surprised to him, several sarcastic laughs could be heard.
“I’m not sure where all this is coming from all of a sudden,” the lieutenant governor said, referring to the troubling incidents. “Why is it now that people decide they can show their true colors? Do we have a climate that’s changed? I don’t really think we have, but someone has decided that, and we all should speak out about it. I mean, I know we had an election a couple of weeks ago, and we were all surprised.”