The Senator replacing Bob Menendez as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes on the role with a record spanning nearly three decades in Congress of stances supporting policies to improve health, human rights and science-based global and domestic responses. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has served on the committee since coming to the Senate in 2007 after 20 years in the House of Representatives.
Menendez (D-NJ) who as chair of the committee in 2013 led the effort with then Ranking Member (and current committee Chairman) Bob Corker to renew the program authorization for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, announced last week that he would step down from the role while defending himself against federal corruption charges.
In Cardin’s statement announcing that Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid had asked him to take the minority leadership seat on the committee, he pledged to “continue to champion U.S. engagement to tackle pressing global health, food security, economic development and environmental issues, and to promote strong U.S. support for civil society particularly in Africa.”
His support has included adding an amendment to PEPFAR’s 2008 reauthorization to build in-country health worker training, and in 2010, introducing a resolution with other senators intended to increase pressure on Uganda to reject the country’s first proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” The resolution noted that the bill undermined HIV fighting efforts, called on Uganda’s parliament to reject the bill, and urged other countries to reject and repeal similarly spirited laws. In June, Cardin co-sponsored the Global Development Lab Act, legislation that would authorize USAID to expand and leverage partnerships with private companies to develop diagnostic and treatment technologies to fight diseases in low-resource settings.
Cardin’s support for global health initiatives under PEPFAR’s third iteration is likely to continue to be strong. Last year he introduced his constituent and then nominee Dr. Deborah Birx at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that led to her confirmation as current U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever I’ve ever introduced a person so qualified for a post.”