October 1, 2019

Last week, we turned a new page in the Trump Presidency. We learned of a deeply disturbing call between Donald Trump and the President of Ukraine. During the call, President Trump clearly urged a foreign power to investigate his political adversary -- former Vice President Biden and his family -- for his own gain. The President made these requests while withholding military assistance from Ukraine -- support that is vital to Ukraine’s efforts to deter further Russian aggression.

President Trump’s actions constitute an abuse of power and a threat to our democracy. They are part of a pattern of misconduct that was revealed by the Mueller Report but made even worse by the fact that the President is now using the power of the Office of the President to advance his schemes. This wrongdoing must be fully investigated and any efforts by the White House to block legitimate congressional inquiries should be charged as obstruction of justice.

I deeply regret that the President’s actions have brought us to this moment. But the American people deserve the truth and should be able to have confidence that officials are not violating their oaths of office. While I did not come to this decision lightly, last Tuesday, I voiced my support for the House to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Later that day, Speaker Pelosi announced just that. Both the House and the Senate must continue their work to get to the truth, and, working together, we must protect our democracy. 


Chris Van Hollen

Securing Critical Investments for Maryland

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’m working every day to secure investments in key priorities for our state and country. On a bipartisan basis, we have already unanimously passed eight appropriations bills out of the Committee, as we work towards a final funding deal for the entire government. I am pleased to report that in each of these bills I’ve obtained important investments for Maryland. For starters, I worked to provide the Chesapeake Bay Program with its first increase in funding in 5 years. This program is at the heart of our efforts to preserve and protect the Bay, and this increase comes despite the fact that the Trump Administration tried to strip away 90 percent of the program’s funding. This month I also introduced the Chesapeake WILD Act, bipartisan legislation that will increase the resources available to Chesapeake wildlife conservation and establish a direct link between our Bay conservation partners and the experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service. I’ll be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this passed.

In addition to the Bay Program, I was able to secure an increase in funding that can be used to fix the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. A lack of funds in this national program led in part to the unsafe driving conditions on the Parkway earlier this year. I also worked to provide funds to important projects across our state, including the dredging of the Port of Baltimore and the restoration of the Poplar and Mid-Chesapeake Bay Islands.

Last but not least, I fought for continued investment in grant programs that focus on the firefighters and first-responders who keep our communities safe -- from hiring more staff to ensuring they have the equipment they need. I recently joined Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Council Member Julian Jones, and Baltimore County firefighters at the Towson Fire Station to announce a $2.7 million grant for the County to hire new firefighters. And in this year alone, Maryland fire departments have received over $31 million from these programs.

I will continue working in the Senate to promote Maryland’s priorities and invest in the needs of our state.

Putting an End to Gun Violence

The Senate has received legislation (H.R. 8) from the House of Representatives to require universal background checks for the sale of firearms. This measure, which will save lives, has been sitting at the Senate desk for over 220 days. Each day in America, an average of 100 people -- including 47 children and teenagers -- die from senseless gun violence. And some 20,000 have died since the House took action in February. While this measure will not prevent all of these gun fatalities, it will reduce the death toll. 

Last month, we saw two more mass shootings ravage our county -- in addition to the daily toll of gun violence that plagues our city streets. Over 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks. Yet President Trump and Senate Republicans continue to kowtow to the gun lobby and the NRA. Their refusal to act makes them complicit in the carnage. It’s time for them to stop talking and get to work. I will continue calling out my Republican colleagues until we make meaningful reforms.

Securing our Elections

While we investigate the President’s interactions with Ukraine, we can’t take our eye off the danger of Russian interference in our upcoming elections. Though the President has said he’s unconcerned about Russia’s interference, we know that this is an unacceptable attack on our democracy. That’s why I successfully garnered a unanimous Senate vote calling upon the Congress to incorporate a provision to deter foreign interference in our elections within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This provision, originally a part of my bipartisan DETER Act, would impose immediate, harsh sanctions on Russia or any foreign government that interferes in our future elections. A final NDAA is currently being negotiated between the House and the Senate, and I will keep pushing to include this key protection for our democracy. 

Providing Americans with a Second Chance

We all know that education is key to a successful future -- but for far too many, higher education remains out of reach. I introduced a bipartisan bill last week to help change that. The American Opportunity Tax Credit is the primary tax credit available to students aspiring to go to college, giving them up to $2,500 per year toward tuition. Right now, people with a prior felony drug conviction are permanently ineligible for the credit -- though this is the only kind of crime that blocks an individual with a prior record from getting this benefit.

This shortsighted restriction makes it much harder for some individuals who have served their time to get their lives back on track. Take Sekwan Merritt, who is from Baltimore and served his time on his drug conviction. He has been working as an electrician, and more recently started interning at a law firm and joined a program that helps people become paralegals. He’d like to go back to college to pursue a career in that field, but the steep costs make it unaffordable. And right now, Sekwan isn’t eligible for help from this tax credit.

This makes no sense -- it’s bad policy and it stifles opportunity for these individuals. That’s why I teamed up with Republican Senator Rob Portman and others to introduce the ED ACCESS Act. This bill would right this wrong by repealing the lifetime ban that prevents people with felony drug convictions from claiming the credit. This will help these individuals go back to school and ultimately contribute to our workforce and economy. I was proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan, bicameral legislation, and I look forward to working together to get this done.