Sens. Ben Cardin and Barb Mikulski
Sens. Ben Cardin and Barb Mikulski

Since President Barack Obama announced a deal with Iranian officials to limit that country’s nuclear program, most eyes have been on U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin as he . But when it came time to decide whether the deal was going to get through Congress, it was Barbara Mikulski who flexed her seniority, and ended up giving the president the votes by saying she would vote for the deal. Meanwhile, junior Senator Cardin is still deliberating.

Even at a time when Senators are releasing thousand-word statements with footnotes to show just how tough a decision this is, Cardin has climbed to the top of the fence where the undecideds are sitting. That’s likely because Cardin represents the tensions the deal exposes. He is the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, so would usually want to stand with the president. Tracing to his Jewish heritage, Cardin is also a big supporter of Israel and AIPAC, the American-Israeli policy group that vehemently opposes the deal. Cardin probably isn’t just feeling an internal struggle. Lobbyists from both sides have been pressing him for weeks.

As such, he has moved cautiously in making a decision. Some might dare call it slow. At Johns Hopkins earlier this week, Cardin held a forum to discuss the deal. Politico’s Burgess Everett reports that he at times appeared to be “arguing with himself,” and quoted Cardin that he didn’t think he would popular either way. At the end of the session he said the talk left him “confused” about how to vote.

Enter Senator Barb.

Mikulski remained undecided on her support for the deal for all the time that Cardin was publicly deliberating. Since she is retiring and doesn’t have quite the same contradictory storyline as Cardin, she was able to be a little quieter. Until Wednesday morning, when she delivered the 34th and final vote Obama needed to avoid a filibuster.

True to form, Mikulski issued a really long statement, in which she dissects the role of the IAEA, a 24-day delay in inspections and snapback sanctions. In the end, however, she said she would support the deal, and that’s all Obama probably cares about at this point.

This likely spares Cardin the spotlight, whether he wanted it to or not. It also could give him cover to vote against the deal since his vote wouldn’t end up deciding its outcome.

Either way, Mikulski showed once again that she understood how to make the most of a political moment. She’ll be gone next year, so Cardin might want to take notes.

Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the editor of Baltimore and an editor-at-large of Baltimore Fishbowl.