Interview Transcript: Sen. Chris Van Hollen Discusses Congressional Priorities
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re now joined by Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. It’s great to have you here with us today, Senator.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, Margaret. It’s good to be here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There’s a lot to cover, but I’d like to start by asking about the reauthorization of critical legislation. Congress has not yet passed the supplemental for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Do you anticipate this getting done before the end of the year?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: It’s crucial that we pass the supplemental request by the end of the year. This includes vital military assistance for Ukraine, support for Israel, humanitarian aid, and assistance for our partners in the Indo Pacific region. There are also ongoing bipartisan discussions on border security and immigration reform.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand that negotiations are ongoing, even during the recess. Is it realistic to expect progress on this complex issue before the year’s end?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: There are good faith negotiations taking place. Whether a deal will be reached remains to be seen. However, given the urgent situation in Ukraine, it is irresponsible to delay necessary assistance over unrelated issues like immigration reform. These are separate matters that should not be connected.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You recently wrote a letter endorsing increased funding for Israel while also pressing the Biden administration to assess the achievability of military goals and the protection of civilians. Are you satisfied with the administration’s response?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: We are still awaiting a public response from the administration. While we have had discussions at high levels, the concerns outlined in our letter remain unanswered. It’s crucial that we receive clarity on these important questions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This issue has generated both support and criticism within the Democratic Party. Do you believe it is impacting the President’s standing within his own party?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: I wouldn’t say it’s hurting the President with fellow Democrats. However, it is essential for the President to address these concerns more explicitly. Following the recent Hamas attacks, there is widespread support for Israel’s objectives, but we also need to ensure that the conduct of military operations aligns with our values and interests.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s evident that you are seeking accountability and transparency in how military aid is utilized. This extends to recent concerns about settler violence in the region. What are your thoughts on the President’s plan to restrict visas for individuals engaged in violence against civilians?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: I commend the President’s plan to restrict visas for individuals involved in violence against innocent people. Settler violence against Palestinians has been a longstanding issue, and it is critical that such actions are addressed. It is an important first step in addressing this troubling issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have been vocal about the need to support both Israeli and Palestinian interests. Why do you believe this is a contentious statement?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: It shouldn’t be a contentious statement. It is entirely possible to be pro-Israel and also support Palestinian rights and self-determination. A two-state solution, where Israel and a Palestinian state coexist peacefully, is the vision we should be working towards. This requires recognizing and addressing the challenges and concerns of both sides.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for your insights, Senator. We appreciate your time today.
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MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face the Nation. We have more questions now for Senator Chris Van Hollen. Senator, I want to pick up on something you’ve been raising concerns about for a while. Going back to July, I found a letter where you were saying to the White House, you had concerns about the more than $3 billion in security assistance to Israel, because you thought taxpayer money should not shield settlers who are attacking and burning Palestinian villages with impunity. Last night, the President started very publicly saying he’s going to start trying to crack down. What do you think of this plan to restrict visas?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: I was pleased to hear the President say what he said. And I fully support the President’s plan to restrict visas from people who have a record of violence against innocent people. So I think that’s an important first step. As you know, extreme settler violence against Palestinians has been an issue for a very long time. We’ve seen a huge spike in extremist settler violence since the- the Gaza war started as people have been focused on the war there, 500% increase. The Palestinians have been killed by extremist settlers, their houses burned down, pushed out of villages, olive orchards chopped down in the middle of the olives season, which is the number one income producing time for a lot of these villagers. So this is a big, big problem. Remember, in the Netanyahu coalition, you have some very extreme members, Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, one of them, you know, belongs to the successor party to the Kahanist party, a party that was on the US terrorist watch list. So this is why it’s very important for the United States to weigh in and weigh in strongly. I’m glad to see the President do what he did.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And they were in the government well before October the seventh. Just quickly, you’ve made some statements that being pro Israel doesn’t require being anti Palestinian and vice versa. Why do you think that that’s a controversial statement?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, it shouldn’t be, because you can be both pro-Israel as I am, and also pro-Palestinian and support Palestinian rights and aspirations to self-determination and a homeland of their own. In fact, the President’s vision when he sees some light, maybe at the end of this dark tunnel, has been a two-state solution, Israel living securely with a Palestinian state as a neighbor, where Palestinians have equal dignity and full rights. And one of the problems with what’s happening on the west bank right now is when you push Palestinians off of their lands, you make it even harder to have a two-state solution. You strengthen Hamas, you weaken the Palestinian Authority, and you make it harder. So I was disappointed to see Prime Minister Netanyahu smack down President Biden’s call for a two state solution. This is going to mean that the President- President Biden has to do even more to put forward a clear vision of how we’re going to emerge from this very dark tunnel into a brighter future.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I think we all hope for a brighter future. Senator, thank you very much for your time today.