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Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen On Shutdown

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Even before the clock struck midnight and the government shut down, the fingerpointing had begun. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma described it on our program this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TOM COLE: Well, first of all, I don't think anybody's going to negotiate very seriously with a gun to their head. And the history of these things is that presidents win, and the party in Congress that causes a shutdown tends to lose.

SIMON: Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, runs the Senate Democrats 2018 campaign operation. He joins us now. Senator Van Hollen, thanks very much for being with us.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Scott, good to be with you this morning.

SIMON: Republicans, as I don't have to tell you, say your party used immigration as what amounts to leverage, a bargaining chip. What do you think of that?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Scott, the first thing is we need to get back to work. The Senate will go back in at noon today and end this unnecessary and very avoidable shutdown. There were lots of issues at play. We are now four months into the fiscal year without a budget, which our military has said is doing great damage to them. We need to fund not only the military but the part of the budget that funds our kids' education, the part of the budget that funds the Social Security Administration, which is taking great cuts. And that's having a very negative impact on services. We need to fully fund - so if you're - there are a series of issues. DACA...

SIMON: I didn't hear a yes or no as to whether or not you're using immigration as a bargaining chip.

VAN HOLLEN: No, we are not. The answer is we are not. What we are doing is trying to get agreement on a whole host of important priorities, which, by the way, we believed were shared priorities, at least among a majority of senators - Republicans and Democrats. Chuck Schumer then went to the White House. As both Chuck Schumer and the president indicated, they thought they had a positive meeting. But as so often happens after these White House meetings, the naysayers at the White House got involved, and things went downhill from there. Look. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has said the White House is an unreliable negotiating partner. He's right, which is why the Senate should get this done and send it to the White House.

SIMON: Let me ask you, Senator Van Hollen, what are you and other Democrats willing to give up to get a budget deal?

VAN HOLLEN: We're willing to negotiate both in terms of the levels of funding for defense and the part of the budget that focuses on education. When it comes to community health centers, we can find a reasonable number to keep them going. Fighting the opioid epidemic - these are all pressing issues in our country, and they need to be resolved. When it comes to DACA...

SIMON: Yeah.

VAN HOLLEN: ...We saw a bipartisan agreement come out of the Senate, right? The president had asked the senators to come up with a plan. He said he would sign it. This was weeks ago. So Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, others went to work. They got that bipartisan deal. And we know what happened. They went to that meeting at the White House, and the president used the repulsive, racist language. And we're trying to get back to that.

But, Scott, you know, my view is that the Senate should not be contracting our constitutional responsibilities to a chaotic White House. Mitch McConnell should bring up what is a bipartisan agreement in the United States Senate. And we should vote on it and then send it to the president. And then the president can decide what to do. He said he would sign whatever we sent him. He can change his mind if he wants, but let's just do our job in the United States Senate.

SIMON: Well, in the, you know - roughly over 30 seconds we have left. Was this a case - 'cause of course, senators are meeting today. People are talking even as we speak. Was this a case where each side needed to signal that they were tough and willing to go to the mat, and now something can come out of it?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I do hope very much and think something can come out of this. I was disappointed last night. We had a motion to keep the government open for another three days so that we can complete this negotiation without signaling chaos throughout the federal government. Unfortunately, Republicans rejected that. But I hope we will use our time over the weekend to try to resolve these issues.

Again, I believe there's a bipartisan agreement to be had in the United States Senate. Mitch McConnell should let us do our constitutional job, and then, you know, the president can decide what he wants to do when he gets the piece of legislation. But this is chaos down there. And so let's do our job in the Senate.

SIMON: Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland, thanks so much for being with us.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.