Leading up to the 2018 elections, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) is holding several forums to speak with constituents across the state. One such event was held at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the Owings Mills JCC on Sunday.
The senator was asked by community members about a wide array of topics, from gun violence in schools to the cost of higher education.
“I think the greatest threat against America is Russia,” Cardin said during his opening speech to the audience. “Mr. Putin has a design in bringing down democratic states and will use any means to do it. He’ll use his military, propaganda and cyber. His objective is to bring down democratic institutions because his form of leadership depends upon corruption.”
The first attendee to speak criticized recent Democratic behavior and said politicians have been “playing too nice with Republicans” and that Cardin “normalizes” a Trump presidency.
“I think Republicans crossed a line,” Cardin responded. “What they did with the Supreme Court nomination was a direct attack on our Constitution and on our system of government. Will I fight the Republicans when they’re wrong? You bet I will. And we have been effective. Look at the Affordable Care Act. Look at the Omnibus Appropriation Bill. That’s one of the most pro-Democrat bills we’ve ever passed, and the Republicans control both branches of government. I don’t compromise my principles.”
When asked how he would work with school boards to improve districts, Cardin, a product of the Baltimore City public schools, said, “Education should be our No. 1 priority.”
“Education, to me, is the great equalizer,” he said. “It enabled me to reach the United States Senate. Too many of our schools are not performing at the level that they need to. I’m committed to making sure the public school system gets the support they need, and there’s a lot more we need to do. Early childhood education should be available to all.”
One attendee was concerned about the high cost of medicine, with which Cardin agreed.
“It’s outrageous. We, on average, spend twice as much as the next expensive country in the world with the same medicine manufactured here,” the senator said. “That makes no sense whatsoever. We don’t have a consolidated market. We’re the only developed country that doesn’t have one. We let pharmaceutical manufacturers get away with obscene profits in this country. There’s a way of fixing it: use a consolidated market. Market share is the most important factor in price.”
Cardin further chastised big pharma. “We talk about the NRA and its impact on gun safety, but the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association has a similar grip on our political system,” he added.
A student representative from the group Students Against Gun Violence asked the senator whether it’s a federal or state responsibility to teach students about gun violence and control.
“The activism of our students is, to me, so encouraging to our future,” Cardin said, also praising student activists from Parkland. “The safety game plan for students in a classroom should be determined by local districts, not by Washington. The circumstances in Pikesville are different than the circumstances in Cheyenne, Wyoming. You really do need to develop your own strategies. I’m against arming school teachers. I think that would be a mistake.”
One of the final questions of the day came from a freshman at Johns Hopkins University who is a student leader with J Street, whose conference Cardin recently spoke at. She asked how he plans to make a two-state solution part of his platform.
“There’s only one solution to peace in the Middle East and that is two states living side by side,” Cardin said. “Our objective is to preserve an opportunity for peace. I meet with Arab leaders all the time. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar are all looking forward to the day that they have peace with Israel. They recognize that that’s the day their economies will bloom. Israel is that lynchpin.”