Transcript: Sen. Chris Van Hollen on “Face the Nation,” April 7, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, that aired on April 7, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we turn now to continue the conversation with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen from the state of Maryland. And good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Good morning, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to pick up on this same topic we’ve been talking about in terms of the developing policy, because you have been pressing for the White House to act- act on the President’s own standards for national security, and to hold Israel to account in terms of possibly conditioning military aid. Were you clear on what the White House position is?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I’m not clear. First of all, I should say, I’m glad Bill Burns is in Cairo. I hope we get a ceasefire and a return of all the hostages. I was glad to see the President, at least as reported out, finally say to President Netanyahu, that if you don’t follow these, you know, my requests, that there will be consequences. But the president and the White House have yet to lay out what consequences they have and they want to impose. And we have had a situation where for months, the President has made requests to the Netanyahu government, they have ignored those requests, and we’ve sent more 2000 pound bombs. We cannot revert back to that. We have to make sure that when the President requests something that we have a means to enforce it. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president has the power to put limits on arms delivery to any country in the world that receives US military support, even things that were approved by Congress in the past. They get $3.3 billion a year to buy weapons, $500 million more a year for missile defense. You voted along with other senators, on an additional $14 billion in aid. It’s held up in the house right now. Is any of that being reconsidered?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, first of all, that- that $14 billion, was part of a much larger assistance package that provided $60 billion to the people of Ukraine to fight against Putin. So what I have said is once monies are appropriated, you still have to go through this process to actually transfer them. And the President’s own national security memorandum number 20, that you just raised with John Kirby says very specifically, that if a recipient of US military assistance, including the Netanyahu government is restricting the delivery of humanitarian aid, that we should not be sending more weapons. And so it’s very important that the Biden administration enforce its own policy that was signed by the president of the United States as a directive to the government.It needs to be enforced.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when I’ve talked to folks who would be asked to implement the policy that you are talking about in trying to say, okay, you can have defensive but not offensive weapons, they say it’s next to impossible to try to separate that out and to define which weapons are okay and which weapons are not. How do you respond to that?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: There’s a very clear line here, I was very involved in the negotiation of NSM-20. Defensive weapons are things like air defense, Iron Dome, we’re not taking the position that we should not be sending Israel systems that it needs to defend itself. But offensive weapons, I mean, airplanes, bombs, artillery, everything that’s being used right now in Gaza, these are offensive weapons that are being used. And so what it says is that you shouldn’t be shipping more weapons to the Netanyahu government, when they’re not meeting their commitments, including the delivery of humanitarian aid, or when they’re not complying with international law.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So as part of this directive, May 8th is the date by which a report has to be delivered to Congress about whether Israel is abiding by, along with other countries, by the way who are being held to this standard. Should it be made public whether or not they’re violating international law?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Yes. We need more transparency. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will the White House– Have you asked the White House to do that? 

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, the NSM requires that the report be public to the extent possible, but obviously, that leaves some running room for the Biden administration. We want this to be public, not just with respect to Israel, but as you say, all the other countries that this will be- this- this report will cover. And it’s a quite extensive report on whether or not Israel is complying with these provisions. Also a very important provision that asks whether or not they are using best practices to limit civilian harm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So are congressional Democrats comfortable with approving some of the weapons systems that are being asked for and may be in the pipeline, things that won’t be delivered for years, because Israel does live in a tough neighborhood. Should they be able to get fighter jets and things like that, that they’re asking for?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I- yes, when they comply with the terms of NSM-20 and when they meet President Biden’s request. This partnership cannot be a one way street.So my view is the President needs to do what he said he was going to do, which is see if the Netanyahu government is going to implement these changes in terms of allowing more humanitarian assistance. And we should measure that by people not starving to death, people being able to get medical equipment, kids not being able to not have amputations without anesthesia. So we have a long way to go. And until- until those conditions are met, then no, we should not be sending more offensive weapons to Israel, not to stop them permanently, but to effectively use our leverage. That’s what we’re asking the President of the United States to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I have to ask you about your home state of Maryland and the disaster in Baltimore. Congressman Trone of Maryland said that the bill pledg- pledging federal funding to help rebuild this bridge should essentially be Trump proofed. He talked about the appropriations bill being structured- structured, just in case President Biden is not reelected. Do you share his concern?

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, first of all, President Biden has been on this from the beginning. And President Biden has already made sure that Maryland is part of what we call the Emergency Relief Program, which automatically means that the state of Maryland will get 90% of the funds for rebuilding the bridge. And so what Senator Cardin and Congressman Mfume and I will do is we are going to introduce legislation for the other 10%, and also make clear that any monies that are recovered through lawsuits on liability, come back to the U.S. Federal taxpayer.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I will ask Governor Moore about the details of that. Thank you very much. Senator Van Hollen. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Face the Nation will be back in a minute. Stay with us.

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