The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, that aired on Nov. 19, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re now joined by Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. It’s good to have you here in person.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It’s good to be with you, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: A lot to talk to you about today. But I want to quickly just ask you, since Congress just went home for the better part of two weeks, they haven’t reauthorized a lot of things. And they haven’t passed the supplemental for Israel for Ukraine, Taiwan, is that going to get done before the end of the year?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: We have to get it done by the end of the year. We have to pass the supplemental request, which includes, as you say, desperately needed military assistance for Ukraine, support for Israel, humanitarian assistance, as well as support for our partners in the Indo Pacific region. One of the issues, as I’m sure, you know, that’s being discussed is trying to get something done with respect to border security, and immigration reform and there are ongoing bipartisan discussions as we speak.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand that’s happening through the recess–
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: –That’s true. That is–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –for the border. Do you know, I mean, is it really realistic, though, that- that’s a very hard issue, that that’s gonna get done before 2023’s up?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, there are good faith negotiations going on. Whether they get done or not, I don’t know. But let me just say, it seems to me that given the desperate situation in Ukraine, it is irresponsible for people to say that we’re going to allow Putin to continue his assault on Ukraine, and only going to provide that assistance if we get a deal on something else. I want to get a deal on immigration reform, but it doesn’t make sense to me to connect the two.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you wrote a letter this month, endorsing more funding for Israel, but also pressing the Biden administration on its assessment of whether these military goals are actually achievable and how that country is protecting civilians. Are you satisfied with what the White House has told you?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: We’re still awaiting a public response from the Biden administration. We’ve not received that public response yet. We have had outreach at the highest levels. And we’ve been offered, those of us who signed the letter, to meet with the President’s top national security and foreign policy team to discuss some of those issues. But- but we are still awaiting an answer to the letter, because we asked a lot of questions that we think are important to get answers to.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is hurting the President with his fellow Democrats, isn’t it?
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, I don’t know if it’s hurting the President with fellow Democrats. I do think it’s important that the President speak out more clearly on this issue. Let me say this, in the aftermath of the horrific Hamas attacks of October 7, you have I think virtually every senator supporting Israel’s objective of going after Hamas and neutralizing them from a military perspective, no more October 7ths.. But we also need to do, as Secretary Blinken said, see- how Israel conducts this operation is important. And so many of us were concerned, just a few weeks ago, when one of the White House National Security spokesperson was asked if the United States has any red lines. And the answer was no. Which means anything goes and that cannot be consistent with American interests and American values. So that’s why we’re asking these questions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It can’t be consistent, because that’s not the policy for any other country that the United States provides military aid to.
SEN. VAN HOLLEN: That’s right. Look, we have a policy of trying to make sure that our funds are used in a manner that advances our interest and our values. And if you look at what’s happening right now, in Gaza, the desperate humanitarian crisis. Clearly that’s more that can be done. And if you look at the level of civilian casualties, Secretary Blinken himself has acknowledged that there are additional measures that the Netanyahu government can take to reduce the high level of civilian casualties, two-thirds of them children. So this is why we’re asking the President questions. We want to work with the President to get more assurances that our interests and values will be protected.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, we have to take a break, but I want you to stay here with us for more Face the Nation. And all of you stay with us too.
** COMMERCIAL BREAK **
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face the Nation. And 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.