Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes (D-District 3) hopes that the results of the 2018 midterm elections on Nov. 6 will bring a sense of normalcy back to Washington, D.C., and Congress.
During a visit to the JT offices on Sept. 14, Sarbanes outlined a House resolution sponsored by himself and 160 other members of the House of Representatives that aims to empower American voters by making members of Congress more accountable to their constituents. He described the resolution as his No. 1 priority.
In addition to H. Res. 975, the By the People Resolution, Sarbanes shared his thoughts on the upcoming Maryland gubernatorial race; his hopes for the conclusion of the Special Counsel investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller; his assessment of the Democrats’ latest effort to halt the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court; and his opinion of President Donald Trump’s political relationship with Israel.
Early in the conversation, Sarbanes pointed out that much like the American people who feel worn out by the perpetual cycle of controversy linked to the president, the legislators in Congress feel a similar sense of fatigue.
But Sarbanes is far from pessimistic, describing the caliber of Democratic congressional candidates running in 2018 as “breathtaking, qualified, experienced and motivating.”
“The candidates are amazing, the energy is palpable,” he said, adding that he believes the 140 Democratic women candidates for Congress will prove to be a transformational force.
“A lot of people thought 2016 was going to be the year of the woman in politics, but it’s going to be this year. A lot of the women candidates who are running, and I see it in my colleagues right now, they don’t have time to be cynical.”
The congressman is hopeful that if Democrats regain a majority in Senate and/or the House of Representatives after the election, that the aforementioned H. Res. 975 will make its way to the president’s desk.
The resolution states: “It is the purpose of this resolution to express the sense of the House of Representatives that Congress should advance a comprehensive set of political reforms to restore trust in, and integrity to, our institutions of democracy. Such reforms will— (1) empower the American voter; (2) strengthen our nation’s ethics laws; and (3) fix our broken campaign finance system.”
Sarbanes explained that the three areas highlighted in the resolution will be accomplished by implementing strategies such as automated voter registration, eliminating partisan redistricting, reining in the influence of lobbyists, requiring presidential candidates to disclose tax returns and leveraging small donations to empower campaigns.
It’s a tall order. But Sarbanes feels that without starting with a sweeping reform of congressional accountability, regaining the confidence of the American people will continue to be an uphill battle.
“People aren’t going to believe that you’re going to be able to help them with the economy or the environment or health care or anything else if they think the system is still rigged,” said Sarbanes. “Everything is connected back to this.”
The congressman also weighed in on the Maryland gubernatorial race. While Gov. Larry Hogan is popular in Maryland, remaining the front-runner in the race against Democratic nominee Ben Jealous, Sarbanes feels Hogan has neglected the interests of many Marylanders, especially, he said, those in Baltimore.
He criticized Hogan’s prioritizing of building and expanding roadways instead of investing in public transit. He also feels Hogan should have gone through with plans to build the Red Line, an east-west light rail line connecting far ends of Baltimore County through Baltimore City.
“If he followed through, that would have been a major undertaking by legislators. It would have sent such a powerful message of confidence that the city can move forward, so I didn’t agree with that decision,” he said, noting he found the timing of the decision — shortly after the unrest in Baltimore City following the funeral of Freddie Gray — to be especially disagreeable.
Sarbanes plans to vote for the entire Democratic ticket this November, but stresses that unless Jealous can raise more money for his campaign, he will have a hard time getting his message in front of voters.
Another election the Congressman has his eyes set on is the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020. Sarbanes is aware that many people in the country and even a few of his colleagues in Congress view the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as the starter pistol on impeachment. He hopes, however, that any information gleaned from the investigation will simply serve as useful facts to inform the ways people vote in 2020.
“There may be something that comes to light that gives us no choice,” said Sarbanes, “but I’d much prefer that if there is an impeachment of this president that it happens at the polls in 2020, that it be 120 million Americans delivering the verdict.”
At the time of Sarbanes’ visit on Sept. 14, Democratic senators had just brought to light an accusation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The visit was, however, before the accuser identified herself as Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California.
In the moment, Sarbanes thought that despite the allegation and the Democrats’ attempts to prevent the confirmation, they wouldn’t be able to stop Republicans from voting to appoint Kavanaugh. He also said he thought the Democrats’ requests for documents and information about Kavanaugh’s past were reasonable.
“You can maybe criticize the tactics we’re grabbing onto in order to get that information, but I don’t think it’s an irresponsible position the Democrats have taken on this,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to end well if you’re a Democrat and you’re concerned about Kavanaugh because [Republicans are] determined to get him seated before the next session of the court.”
The final issue Sarbanes discussed during his visit was the president’s relationship with Israel, an area where many members of the Jewish community approve of Trump’s actions.
Sarbanes said he considers himself a strong supporter of Israel, but is concerned that Trump’s heavy-handed foreign policy conduct won’t be beneficial for the relationship between the U.S. and Israel later on.
“I think it’s important that those who feel strongly about Israel try to put Trump’s presidency in a larger context and judge whether the way he conducts himself can actually create problems down the line,” he said.
Sarbanes added that he doesn’t believe backing out of the Iran nuclear deal was a good decision.
“I think there are a lot of people in the Israeli military and intelligence communities that probably have that concern,” he said.
While Sarbanes is fully aware of the challenge that he and other members of Congress have in gaining back the trust of the electorate, he wants American people to feel reassured that something is being done.
“This idea of reform is really resonating. You don’t have to keep up with every scandal,” he said, “just know that we have a plan.”