Last November, seven-term Democratic lawmaker Chris Van Hollen was elected to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate, succeeding Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the retiring 30-year incumbent.
From 2002 to 2016, Van Hollen served in the House of Representatives, representing Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
Van Hollen, 58, was born in the Pakistani city of Karachi, the eldest child of an American diplomat and a State Department intelligence analyst.
Van Hollen and his wife, Katherine, live in the Montgomery County town of Kensington and have three adult children.
Jmore recently caught up Van Hollen to discuss his strongly held views on the national political climate and other matters.
Jmore: What can be done to combat anti-Semitism?
Van Hollen: The first thing we’ve got to do is when we see anti-Semitism, any racism, any bigotry, is to stand up and confront it head-on. We must speak out. There is an alarming rise in hate crimes and hate speech, so it’s very important that we demonstrate. We’ve had people from every faith standing together to fight anti-Semitism and racism in all of its forms.
Second, I joined with some of my colleagues and called upon President Trump to establish a joint task force to combat anti-Semitic acts we’ve seen around the country, as well as the anti-Muslim attacks. He must demonstrate national leadership, create a presidential task force to determine the causes of the rise in anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes, and then develop a national response. But we’ve not had a response from the president.
What needs to be done to rebuild the Democratic Party?
It’s really important that we build on grassroots momentum, the outpouring of public resistance to any effort to drag our country backwards. We need to harness that energy in an agenda that takes our country forward. We cannot undo the progress we’ve made on equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity.
We also need to focus on the other side of that piece by creating a forward-looking agenda based on those equal rights and equal opportunities. Our economy can grow faster if more people are participating in it in the form of higher wages. This is why I’ve put forth a plan to increase the paychecks of the many, not the wealthy few.
How does your economic action plan compare with the plans of the Trump administration?
I haven’t seen any economic plan from the Trump administration. I’ve just heard a lot of rhetoric. What we’ve seen is a plan to destroy the Affordable Care Act. The Republican health care plan was in many ways a Trojan horse, an attempt to provide a $600 billion tax break to the super-wealthy, to insurance companies and to other powerful interests … a windfall to the very wealthy at the expense of everyone else. My economic action plan is designed to grow our economy in ways that provide for more shared prosperity.
Instead of a tax code that rewards people who make money off of capital gains, I propose a tax code that rewards people who earn money through hard work by increasing take-home pay for working Americans. We need better pipelines through learning so there’s training for jobs that are needed by providing tax incentives for more apprenticeships, for community colleges and for four-year colleges. We also need to encourage more personal savings, making it easier for people to put aside money in IRAs to have a secure retirement. And affordable childcare is also essential.
These improvements are to be funded by closing outrageous tax breaks that benefit the super-wealthy, including the hedge-fund loophole. These changes would also be funded by a very small fee for Wall Street transactions.
How can women’s health care be advanced in the current political climate?
Before the Affordable Care Act, being a woman itself was a pre-existing condition because women had to pay a lot more for insurance. The Trump administration has attempted to get rid of the essential benefits package for women. We are trying to make sure that women in every state have access to preventative health care services, including Title X for family planning services. I want to emphasize the fact that Title X services provide no federal dollars for abortion. Yet Republicans are trying to defund all services of any kind to any group that also provides abortion services, including Planned Parenthood, even though no federal funds are available for abortion services.
[If that legislation becomes law] a state with a Republican governor or Republican legislature could prevent any of those federal funds from going to any clinic that provides cervical cancer screenings, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer and other preventive health care services, if the clinic also provides abortion services. Republications want to defund Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide women’s health services.
We will continue to fight those changes.
What are you doing to promote equal rights and equal justice?
It’s unconscionable that women should be paid less for the same work as that done by men. I am a co-author of equal pay for equal work for women, and I’m also a co-sponsor of equal rights for women.
In addition, we need to reform our justice system. While we have 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s population of people who are incarcerated. That’s in large part because we lock up people for non-violent drug-use offenses. We must treat substance abuse as a health care issue and addiction issue as health care issue, rather than a criminal justice issue. So I have co-authored legislation to get rid of mandatory sentences for non-violent substance-abuse cases.
We also need to protect the LGBT community to prevent discrimination in housing and in the workplace. I worked on this issue in Maryland, and now we need that protection nationally.
How can education be improved in Maryland and around the nation?
Quality education is essential to open the doors for everyone, and that quality education has to begin at the very earliest ages. So I’ve put forward a plan to significantly increase our national investment in early education, including expanding the Head Start. Head Start is underfunded, so we must make sure that Head Start is available when kids need it.
I’ve also introduced legislation to guarantee national funding for our k-12 system. It’s federal legislation modeled on something we did in Maryland, where it was call the Thornton Commission legislation. It makes education funding a priority which cannot decrease in any one year because Congress suddenly decides they don’t want to fund it. Instead, it provides steady, healthy funding for education.
And we need to move toward providing funding for college. We must expand our student loan program so people can refinance their loans at lower rates. And we need to strengthen the income-based student loan program so students are not effectively bankrupted by their college debt.
What must be done to protect the environment?
Climate change is not something for the future. Right now, it’s a clear and present danger. Right now, Marylanders are paying more in taxes to respond to hurricanes and drought around the country. Climate change is an economic, public health and an environmental crisis, but the Trump administration is turning a blind eye to it. The Trump administration has proposed cutting the EPA’s budget by 37 percent. That would be devastating and would give polluters free license to pollute with impunity. I’m on the Appropriations Committee, and we will work hard to prevent these cuts.
The Trump Administration is also trying to eliminate environmental protections for the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay a national treasure, and it’s also vital to our state economy. So if you poison the bay, you’re going to hurt Maryland’s economy.
I have something called the Cap and Dividend Proposal, which is designed to make the polluter pay for carbon pollution. It takes all the proceeds from caps on fossil fuels and gives those proceeds back to American households. We need to prevent climate change and do it in a way that strengthens people’s pocketbooks.
We on the Appropriations Committee will fight tooth and nail to prevent the Trump administration’s proposed changes to combat climate change. We reject Trump’s proposed cuts.
Peter Arnold is an Olney-based freelance writer.
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