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‘End this shutdown madness,’ says Sen. Van Hollen

The Senate is scheduled to vote on two funding proposals Thursday, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., says he hasn't given up hope that the one to reopen the government for two weeks will pass. Judy Woodruff talks to Sen. Van Hollen about the "poison pills" included in President Trump's most recent proposal and why the short-term funding deal represents a bipartisan "best alternative" for now.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, for a Democrat's take, we turn to Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

    Senator, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Is there any sign of a breakthrough, as far as you know?

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.:

    I have not given up hope that we can get a vote in the Senate tomorrow to reopen the government for two weeks, until February 8, which would give us a little breathing room, a little space to end this madness, because a time-out really doesn't prejudice anybody's arguments.

    It would allow federal government employees to get their paychecks, to be repaid. They can pay their bills. It would allow us to do a little bit of the business of the federal government and then have a discussion to end this shutdown madness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're referring to the Democratic proposal. Is that right?

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.:

    Well, it's not really a Democratic proposal.

    I would say the Democratic proposal is the one that I support. It was voted on the very first day of the session in the House of Representatives. It's in the Senate. It's had bipartisan Senate support, which would open the federal government and fully fund the agencies through the end of the fiscal year.

    So this is not that Democratic proposal. This is a stopgap measure, stopgap measure, two weeks' time-out. And, again, I don't think it's the greatest idea, but it's certainly the best alternative that we have in front of us right now to end the shutdown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as far as we know, right now, Republicans are not prepared to support that. They have got the majority in the Senate. You were just telling me you're about to go to a meeting of bipartisan senators.

    Is there some give on both sides that you think could reach some kind of agreement tomorrow?

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.:

    Well, what I hope to come out of this meeting is an understanding that the best way forward tomorrow would be to open the government for this two-week period and give the Senate time to work on these issues in the regular order.

    So, we can consider the president's proposal, but it should also be subject to open amendment. Let people vote however they want. Let the American people know where they stand.

    Look, Lindsey Graham, Senator Graham proposed the idea of a three-week opening of the government a little while ago. This is even a smaller window, a shorter window, two weeks. And that would give a little breathing room here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Obviously, you have a lot of federal employees in the state of Maryland. What are you hearing from your constituents right now?

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.:

    I'm hearing two things, Judy.

    First and foremost, people want to get back and do their jobs for the American people. I mean, these are people who are civil servants, but they're also telling stories about how they're getting totally squeezed, right? I mean, their paychecks have stopped, but the bills keep coming in.

    So lots of them are having trouble paying their rent and their mortgages. I spoke to the head of a community college recently who said that they were having to work out payment plans because parents who work for the federal government, parents who had students at college, couldn't make the monthly installment plans.

    So this is really squeezing the pocketbooks. And that's why you're seeing even those 100,000 employees who are still being asked to work without pay, they're not able to cover some of their very basic expenses, like getting to work. It's costing them to do their work for the federal government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, on just the basic proposal here, the president wants some money at least for a physical wall. Democrats have supported that in the past. Why not go along with some of that now in order to get the government open again?

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.:

    As you said, we have proposed physical barriers in strategic areas. What we will not do is operate under a total threat of shutdown.

    And the reason why is because this will become habit-forming for President Trump. If he thinks that every time he doesn't get his way, he can shut down the government like this, it will be a recipe for continuing government shutdowns.

    So I will say that, if you look at the proposal the president made the other day from the Oval Office, as you look more closely, it includes all these poison pills that he didn't talk about. It would actually change our asylum laws in ways which would make it much harder for unaccompanied adults who have been victims of sexual violence and were the victims of sexual trafficking to seek asylum in the United States.

    A lot of things like that that were in that proposal. We should not be holding the entire country hostage in the process. And that's why this two-week time-out is a good idea. It's not the best idea, by any means. But it is the best option on the table today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.:

    Thank you.

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