Report of Meeting with MD Senators and Rep. Sarbanes

Summary of Congressional Meetings on Sept. 28, 2017
Maryland Peace Action and Pax Christi

Eight people from Peace Action and Pax Christi groups throughout MD met on Thurs., Sept. 28, 2017 with foreign affairs aides of Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Representative John Sarbanes. The topics we covered were S.200/HR669, the No First Strike legislation; N. Korea; Iran; and the UN Nuclear Weapons Ban. We had a joint meeting with aides to the two senators.

Meeting with Aides to Senators Van Hollen and Cardin

The aides agreed with us on the extreme dangers posed by the actions and statements of the president with respect to N. Korea and Iran.

Sen. Van Hollen is already a cosponsor of S.200; Sen. Cardin is not. We urged that Sen. Cardin sign on as cosponsor of S. 200. His aide said that even though Sen. Cardin supports the text of the bill, there are issues of senatorial custom and practice for him as ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee that make him reluctant to become a cosponsor, especially as Sen. Cardin knows that the legislation will not pass. Sen. Cardin’s aide said, however, that it is possible that the senator could speak in behalf of the content of S.200.  We stated that the danger of a nuclear war with N. Korea is so imminent and grave that we believe Sen. Cardin has an obligation to speak out and that this legislation provides a “hook” by which he can publicly oppose such a war. It was our impression that Sen. Cardin’s aide agreed with us on that and that Sen. Cardin might be willing to do this. The aide assured us that he would convey our requests to Sen. Cardin.

We thanked Sen. Van Hollen’s aide for the senator’s cosponsorship of S.200.

 We also brought up the UN Nuclear Weapons ban and said that we thought it provides the senators with an opportunity to speak out against nuclear weapons and war with N. Korea. Sen. Cardin’s aide asked us if we saw a way to reframe the issue of nuclear weapons abolition, mentioning the advocacy of this by George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn in 2007. We didn’t have a new “frame” to offer, but we did urge the senators to forcefully advocate a ban on nuclear weapons, for example by writing an article in Foreign Affairs magazine on the UN ban treaty (we were told that Cardin and Van Hollen had had a joint article published in that journal recently).

The aide to Sen. Cardin seemed especially worried about the Iran nuclear agreement, and in fact, he brought that up before we had an opportunity to do so.

The aides urged us to continue to agitate on these issues, saying that it is extremely important for constituents to contact Congress about them.

Meeting  with Aide to Rep. Sarbanes

As with the senators’ aides, the foreign affairs aide to Rep. Sarbanes agreed with us about the extreme seriousness of the issues (North Korea, Iran, nuclear weapons) and seemed appreciative that we had made the appointment to meet with him. 

Rep. Sarbanes is not a cosponsor of HR 669, the No First Strike legislation, although at a town hall meeting earlier this year, he expressed strong support for it.  The aide suggested that the press of business in the office was the reason that Rep. Sarbanes has not become a cosponsor, but that he (the aide) would convey our request to Rep. Sarbanes to cosponsor it now. We assured him that we would publicize Rep. Sarbanes’ support of the bill should he cosponsor it,  and we are cautiously optimistic that he will do so.

As in the senatorial meeting, Rep. Sarbanes’ aide agreed with us on the substance of all the issues we were addressing, and he urged us to continue to agitate at the grassroots level and to ask peace activists throughout the country to meet with members of Congress and to call congressional offices.

Summary and Lessons Learned

It was somewhat surprising to us that the aides we met with seemed every bit as concerned about these issues as we are.  In fact, we were quite impressed that all three of them asked us what we thought would be possible strategies to move beyond the rancorous partisanship of the Congress in order to focus together on issues of this magnitude. It is worth noting that we had not asked Sen. Cardin's aide for a meeting (although we were planning to do so), so Sen. Van Hollen or his staff  had to have invited him to join us there, and the aide (or Sen. Cardin) had agreed in advance that it was important for him to meet with us. That, to us, suggested very strong interest on their part in addressing these issues.

We are hopeful that these congressional aides will forcefully argue our positions with their bosses. The aides clearly want peace advocates, throughout the country, to make a big noise in the public square and in Congress. Frankly, they seemed to feel as powerless as we sometimes feel, and all three aides expressed the need for there to be strong grassroots pressure.

We felt that all three Congressional aides listened carefully to us and that they want us to help them as much as we want them to help us.