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C. Fraser Smith: Ben Cardin’s moment of truth

In Annapolis, they call it “a hard vote.”

Hard, meaning your opponents could use it against you — to raise money and marshal votes.

Hard, meaning you might have to vote against your own better judgment.

Hard, meaning between your basic rock and a hard place.

That does not adequately describe the choice now facing Maryland Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin. He surely faces one of the most difficult votes in his long political career.

Will it be yea or nay on the Iran nuclear deal?

His party and his president may be saying he has no choice. He has to vote yea. The deal offers the world its best available opportunity to curb Iran’s nuclear ambition, they say.

They also know the pressure Cardin’s under.

He’s one of the most important Jewish lawmakers in Washington. Israel fiercely opposes the deal. The nation’s existence is threatened by the deal, its leaders say. So he must vote no.

Cardin’s vote could mean more than just his vote. He’s seen as one of the smartest and most astute members of either chamber in Congress. He’s not an ideologue. He wants to get things done. He’s known for finding ways to bridge deep divisions.

All of this became more difficult when Cardin’s Democratic Senate colleague, Chuck Schumer of New York, announced he would vote no. Cardin’s dilemma would have eased a bit if he and Schumer stood together on the issue.

Marylanders, with sympathy for his dilemma, watch to see how he deals with it. An inveterate poker player when he was speaker of the House of Delegates, Cardin tends to play cards close to his vest for as long as he can. Surely the White House would like to see a change in that approach now, hoping a yes vote might win support from other senators.

As the ranking and most important Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cardin would be expected to vote with President Barack Obama – even in circumstances such as this, even when the political cost could hardly be higher.

One other thing about hard votes and Annapolis:

There are members who embraced these votes, who saw them as reason for being there at all. If you were willing to vote yes or no – against your personal best interests – you were an ideal lawmaker. You weren’t there to protect your career. You were there to do the right thing for your constituents and your state.

But, of course, the issues are often complex. The right thing to do is not always clear.

What’s really hard sometimes is seeing what’s more right than something else.

Ben Cardin was always good at that.

Rosenberg’s not happy

Ben Rosenberg’s a big winner in the Red Line battle – but he’s not happy. Not at all.

The lawyer and Canton resident was one of the project’s longest-standing and fiercest opponents. He opposed the route, but he didn’t kill the plan. Democratic hubris did, he says. None of the party leaders stepped in to say the proposed tunnel would be a financial disaster – and the route would make the cost even more unacceptable.

He tried to make his case with former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. They had misgivings but failed to act, he says.

Better to let well enough alone. A bad plan is not a problem if you’re in charge.

And then you’re not. Republican Larry Hogan Jr. was elected. He killed the line, calling it a waste and worse – a boondoggle.

Rosenberg knows a transit system is urgently needed. He thinks Hogan would have listened to another route.

He does not say, and nobody could, that Hogan’s a fan of subways whatever the route.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column runs Fridays in The Daily Record. His email is fsmith@wypr.org.