The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Tuesday that Russia poses a greater threat to the U.S. than a nuclear powered North Korea.
Speaking hours before President Donald Trump’s first joint address to Congress, Sen. Ben Cardin called Russia “truly the most aggressive of our enemies right now” and urged the administration to stand up to them.
“They have the capacity, they’re trying to bring down our democratic system of government,” he said. “They’re interfering with our elections, they’re interfering with European elections, they’ve already invaded Ukraine, part of that country under its control.”
Cardin has frequently criticized Trump for his position on Russia and his embrace of President Vladimir Putin, and he has called for an independent commission on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Cardin also warned that the U.S. must watch North Korea closely and work with China to rein in leader Kim Jong Un.
“They’re being led by a leader who is just not respectful of the rights of its own citizens and is threatening its neighbors,” he said.
Cardin is bringing Maryland’s secretary of economic development to Trump’s speech Tuesday night, hoping to introduce him to colleagues and get more federal funds directed to the state.
He would like Trump to offer a more conciliatory and less partisan message than he delivered in his inauguration address.
“What I hope is that he will address our country and all the people of our country, the international community, and show that he is interested in working with our international partners,” he said.
Cardin is also counting on his Democratic colleagues to bring a less partisan attitude to the event to avoid the kind of heckling President Barack Obama faced from Rep. Joe Wilson during one of his first addresses before Congress.
“This is the President of the United States,” he said. “It's not any one individual. This is the Office of the President, coming to a Joint Session of Congress. He, uh, the Office deserves the respect from the Legislative branch of government, and we need to listen to the President.”