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House Politics and Election 2008

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Chris Van Hollen
Maryland Congressman
Monday, January 22, 2007; 12:15 PM

A year after considering a Senate bid, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen is the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rep. Van Hollen was online Monday, Jan. 22 at 12:15 p.m. ET to talk about the passage of Nancy Pelosi's "100 hours" agenda, what the party will target the rest of the session and his contention that 35 Republican seats could be vulnerable in the next election.

The transcript follows.

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Hello, I'm Chris Van Hollen.

I'm honored to have been appointed by Speaker Pelosi to take on the responsibilities at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. We hope to build on the momentum from the last election to ensure that we continue to enact our agenda for changing direction in America.

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Dayton, Ohio: Good afternoon Congressman. I know that it is still very early in the cycle but I was very encouraged by the Ohio results. Considering its importance in the Presidential race; the success in OH 6, 13, and 18; and the close races in OH 1, 2, and 15, is the DCCC considering expanding into other races in Ohio? I am especially looking at OH 3 where Mike Turner could face a real challenge with a credible candidate. Thank you,

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Yes, we are looking at all opportunities in Ohio. There were lots of close races in the last election, as you point out. We'll mount vigorous campaigns in the districts that were close last time and expand the playing field in Ohio. We expect competitive presidential races in Ohio that will increase turnout and it's important that we have good candidates to take advantage of those opportunities.

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Washington: No offense to Rahm Emanuel but thank you for putting a kinder, gentler face on Democratic fundraising.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: We are going to work with all supporters of the Democratic Party to ensure we have a good fundraising base from grassroots efforts to other efforts, and we encourage everybody to contribute to the effort and ensure that in this season of Presidential politics and don't lose sight of sustaining and improving our majority in the Congress.

We worked very closely with Rahm Emanuel in the last election. Every chairman brings his own approach and management style to the DCCC. We had a very successful election in the last cycle and we can build on it going forward.

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Rockville, Md.: You are on the Government Reform Committee and others that were pretty quiet in the last 10 years. Now that you are in the majority, where do you start the oversight and other work of these Committees? What would you like to accomplish in the First Quarter of 2007 and by year's end?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: The era of giving the Bush administration a blank check and free ride is over. We are going to hold the administration accountable for its decisions even as we undertake our own agenda for change. I expect the government reform committee will conduct oversight into a whole range of areas, from the conduct of the war in Iraq to the way special interests gained a special place at the table in the Bush Administration and how that special access influenced the administration's policy.

The "100 hour" agenda initiatives were a very good start. We plan to build on the success of each of those initiatives, such as moving forward with a truly innovative energy policy, expanding access to health care, and moving forward on a variety of children's initiatives, especially in the area of education.

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Richmond, Va.: With 35 possibly vulnerable Republican seats, when do you see those senators having a nice sit-down talk with Bush about his obdurate go-it-alone Iraq policies and how it will affect their chances in 2008? In short, when will these congressmen start worrying about their legacies and not Bush's?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: The Bush policies, especially his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, have put many republican members in a very difficult position. They will have decided whether they support the Bush escalation plan or to support their constituents who called for a new direction in Iraq during the last election. And there will soon be a vote to determine whether they stand for escalation in Iraq or for their constituents and a new direction in Iraq.

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Rockville, Md.: Rep. Van Hollen: I'm concerned about the role you've offered to Howard Dean in recruiting candidates. What assurances can you give us that Mr. Dean won't go after wing-nuts and whack-a-doodles to fill the Democratic House roster?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I look forward to working with former Gov. Dean in this election cycle. Rest assured that we are determined to find candidates who appeal to a broad cross-section of their communities. We are looking for candidates who reflect the values and priorities of the majority of people in their communities.

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Washington, DC: Congressman Van Hollen, thank you for engaging in this chat. Could you talk about why you support Clean Elections public financing of campaigns for public office? Do you share my belief that when congressional candidates collect contributions from voters of no more than five dollars per constituent, that will result in less time spent begging wealthy donors for campaign contributions, equality of opportunity for people of all income levels to run for office, and fewer giveaways to lobbyists from the public treasury?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I believe we need campaign finance reform to reduce the role special interests in the lawmaking process and ensure that the public interest prevails. That's why I support the Clean Campaigns legislation that has been sponsored by Congressman John Tierney, D-Mass. I think that legislation will help provide greater opportunities for all Americans to have their voices heard in Congress. That legislation was introduced last year and will be reintroduced shortly.

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California Primary: Thank you, Congressman, for taking questions, and good luck to all in the 110th session! The California Legislature is going to try to pass a bill that would move presidential primary from June to February -- how do you think this will impact the race?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I'm going to have to take a look at that issue before I can give a thoughtful answer. As you know, the normal process is to go through the Democratic National Committee in setting the dates for some of these primaries. If a state decides to move unilaterally, we'll have to obviously address the consequences. I'm going to have to look further into that particular question. Obviously the early primary and caucus states would not be very happy about such a turn of events.

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Washington: Congressman Van Hollen: Are you aware that the Democrats lost by 6 percent with white males in the most recent election? Do you find that significant? Sen. Schumer does -- he believes the Democrats still have not captured the middle class. Any strategy to recapture the middle class to ensure a 2008 victory?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: We're working hard to identify those parts of the electorate where we did not do as well. We are pleased that we made great gains among independent voters and suburban voters. We hope to build on those gains by capturing more votes from middle-income voters and certainly want to reach out to white males as part of our effort to reach out to all parts of the electorate.

One of the big stories coming out of the last election was that the Bush administration and Republicans lost credibility on national security issues. And lost whatever trust they may have acquired on those issues. Democrats are very focused on showing that we can conduct our national security and foreign policy in a much more competent way and in a way that truly serves our national interest. And I think that with respect to not just middle class voters but some of the white male voters that were referred to, those are key issues.

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Bethesda Md.: Congrats on the D-trip position! Question about the student loan bill: does this bill apply only for loans for undergraduate education, or graduate education as well?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: This particular bill is focused on undergraduate education. We are looking at additional legislation that will expand the reach of the program to reduce interest rates on student loans. And the education and labor committee in the House will be taking up the higher education reauthorization bill later this year -- that includes provisions relating to student loans and the interest rates of student loans. That's where we'll take up the issue of expanding these programs.

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Philadelphia: Do you see it as your general goal is to push for the most responsible legislation and have the President veto it, or is your strategy to compromise with the White House and find common acceptable ground, or some combination thereof?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Look, our goal is to enact legislation that reflects the values and priorities of the American people. That's what the "100 hours" agenda was all about, with initiatives from reducing the cost of student loans to eliminating taxpayer subsidies for the oil and gas industry to increasing the minimum wage. We hope the president will sign those initiatives into law. If he vetoes those important measures, people will have to take recourse at the ballot box in the next election cycle.

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New York: Rep. Van Hollen, do you want victory in Iraq?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Yes I want victory in Iraq -- and the president's escalation plan will not achieve victory. In calling for escalation he has ignored the advice of his commanders on the ground, like Gen. Casey. He has thumbed his nose at the recommendations of the bipartisan, independent Baker-Hamilton Commission. His escalation plan will make it more difficult to achieve stability in Iraq. The president has been wrong from the beginning on Iraq. There's no reason to trust that his latest proposal will lead to any better result. It's time to take a different course.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Will Democratic control of Congress result in less federal funding for development in Republican districts, e.g., "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, and more for Democratic districts, e.g., Purple Line?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I hope what Democratic control of Congress will do is provide more funding for important priorities of the American people. We want to focus funding on projects that advance the public interest.

Importantly, we are changing the so-called "earmark" process to make it much more transparent and accountable. Every request for funds now will identify the member of Congress seeking those funds so the public can determine for themselves whether or not they believe the funding request reflects the public interest. That's a very important reform that already has been enacted by the House of Representatives. In fact that change was passed on the opening day. It's a House rule, so it stands no matter what the Senate does.

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Bethesda, Md.: Mr. Van Hollen: Congratulations on your new position. How do you balance your new duties with your primary responsibility, to your constituents?

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I believe in former Speaker Tip O'Neill's adage that all politics is local and look forward to continuing to actively engage with my constituents on the whole range of issues that are important to our community. I am also fortunate to represent a community that understands that in order to enact an agenda for change you have to have a majority in Congress fighting for change, and therefore I've been pleased that my constituents have supported our efforts to build on the momentum from this past election.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rep. Van Hollen, please tell me that the alternative minimum tax is going to be revamped. This issue really riles me up. I think all people should pay their fair share of tax, but the AMT seems to affect Democrat states disproportionately.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: I agree that the AMT needs to be reformed. It now catches many taxpayers who never were intended to be within its reach. One of my priorities as a member of the Ways and Means Committee is to address this issue and revise the AMT so it no longer hits middle-income taxpayers and focuses only on very high-end taxpayers who are able to use deductions to escape all tax liability.

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Thank you for joining me for this online discussion. I welcome your ideas and comments and look forward to resuming our dialogue in the future.

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