December 20, 2019

Over the holidays, I try to take stock of all that I’m thankful for. In addition to wonderful family and friends, I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent a state full of diverse and passionate people – where far more unites us than divides us. It’s an honor to serve Maryland and be a voice for the issues Marylanders care about, from providing affordable, accessible health care to ensuring our economy works for everyone.

While we push to enact national priorities, we must also work to protect the public trust and uphold our democracy. Now that the House has completed its constitutional duty, impeachment will move to the Senate. As we go forward, it’s up to you – the American people – to demand a fair trial. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s conduct is already extremely troubling and anything but impartial. He has publicly expressed his plan to work in lockstep with the President during the trial and has rejected reasonable requests to allow key fact witnesses to testify. In short, he wants to rig the trial. I hope my other Republican colleagues will agree that we have a duty to get all the facts and do justice. If President Trump and Senate Republicans have nothing to hide, they should have nothing to fear from a fair trial. And that’s why I believe the House should withhold articles of impeachment as we seek assurances from Senator McConnell that the trial will be conducted in a fair and impartial manner.

Through their hearings and sworn-witness testimonies, I believe the House has presented overwhelming evidence in support of the case for impeachment, but – unlike the Senate Republican leader – I welcome additional evidence, including any exculpatory evidence the President wants to produce. I will listen to and fairly weigh any such evidence before rendering a final verdict. That is what a trial is all about. That is our obligation under the Constitution. The American people deserve nothing less.

Good News: Making Vital Investments in our Common Future

I’m pleased that, even amidst the political division, this week the Senate was able to pass legislation to fund important investments throughout our state and our country and to avoid a government shutdown. These bills include a number of key provisions for Maryland – including a historic increase in funds to protect and preserve the Chesapeake Bay. They also provide increased resources to the NIH to achieve its mission of discovering and developing life-saving cures and medical treatments for diseases that impact every American family. Additionally, this package includes critical support for Maryland’s many top-notch federal agencies and military installations, such as NASA Goddard, Fort Detrick, Fort Meade, NIST, and NOAA. And it invests in important projects within our state, including oyster restoration, dredging to ensure a thriving Port of Baltimore, and WMATA.

That being said, while I support strong border security, I opposed the package that included Homeland Security funding because it failed to address one of the President’s most egregious abuses of power – his actions to steal funding from Congressionally-approved projects to build his inefficient, unnecessary border wall and support his inhumane immigration policy. He has taken funding from projects at Joint Base Andrews, Fort Meade, and other military installations across our country and transferred those monies to the Department of Homeland Security. These losses will have harmful impacts on our military bases, communities, and national security.

Making the American Dream a Reality for More Americans

We need to confront the growing wealth gap in this country and counter the Trump Tax Scam with real solutions. That’s why I’ve introduced a Millionaires Surtax to help build a dynamic economy where everyone has a fair shot, instead of a dynastic economy based on existing wealth. Ensuring that millionaires do their part to help our country succeed by investing more in our kids’ education and growing the middle class – rather than concentrating wealth among an increasingly tiny group – isn’t a partisan idea. It’s about making the American Dream more real for everyone. My bill calls upon those with the top 0.2% annual income (couples with over $2 million in annual income) to invest more in the success of our country and help open the doors to the American Dream for the other 99.8%. It’s simple to implement and hard for tax lawyers to game the system by exploiting loopholes. Another key advantage to this approach is that it would apply to both regular income like salaries and to investment income, including stocks. That’s because, unlike middle-class Americans, very wealthy households often get most of their income from investments off of their wealth rather than from their work. Polling shows that Americans across the political spectrum support it, and I’ll be working to get this done.

Tackling Challenges Abroad

One of the most troubling parts of the impeachment inquiry has been the willingness of many Republican Members of Congress to grasp onto – and spread –  the false narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our 2016 elections. This falsehood is completely inaccurate and an attempt by Putin himself to spread misinformation. We know that Russia interfered in the 2016 election from reports from our own intelligence agencies – the CIA and the FBI. Listening to some Republicans and the President trying to discredit that reality is deeply disturbing.

That’s why I am very frustrated that Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked my bipartisan legislation, the DETER Act, which is designed to prevent interference in our future elections. Since 2016, we have done nothing to let Putin know that future inference in our elections will be met with swift, certain, and very tough penalties on Russia and its economy. This is unacceptable. We should all be able to agree that foreign governments should not interfere in American elections. Earlier this fall, the Senate unanimously voted to include key elements of our bipartisan bill in the National Defense Authorization Act. But the Trump Administration and Mitch McConnell worked behind closed doors to remove these provisions. With the next national election less than a year away, I will continue to push my Republican colleagues to move forward on this urgent priority to protect the integrity of our elections and our democracy. 

Despite this, I’m proud to say that Congress has taken a stand when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs, and the threat they pose to ourselves and our allies. This week, the Congress passed – as part of the National Defense Authorization Act – my bipartisan legislation to sanction North Korea, the BRINK Act. This bill will provide the needed teeth to enforce international economic sanctions against the North Korean regime. Specifically, the law will impose sanctions on banks and firms that do business with the North Korean regime and fully enforce the economic restrictions called for by the United Nations. The goal is to build the necessary pressure on North Korea to negotiate the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The President’s repeated photo ops with Kim Jong-un have not achieved our goals. On Wednesday, I was proud to stand alongside the parents of Otto Warmbier – who was killed by this ruthless regime – to announce the passage of our bill to hold the North Korean regime accountable.

Meeting with Marylanders

When I’m not working in the Capitol, I am out meeting folks across our state. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the chance to catch up with people everywhere from Hagerstown to Prince Frederick and Baltimore to Chestertown. In October, I also had the chance to visit our troops in Afghanistan, where I met with members of the Maryland National Guard. Whenever I’m meeting with Marylanders, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about the important things they’re accomplishing in our state and get feedback on how my team can help.

Two of the local visits I’ve enjoyed recently were with students at the Community College of Baltimore County, Essex Campus and Cecil College. At both colleges, I sat down with students to hear directly from them about the issues they’re most interested in and concerned about. I discussed our efforts in the Senate to reduce the burden of student loans, increase access to affordable health care, and grow workforce training programs – including through the introduction of my Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act that utilizes community colleges to get more people ready for work. These visits were a great opportunity to hear from our next generation of leaders.

I also recently held two Consumer Protection Forums with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh – one in Carroll County and another in Howard County – where we discussed how Marylanders can better protect themselves from scams and fraudulent schemes. Following these forums, I’m proud to announce the Congress has passed new legislation – the TRACED Act – which will increase enforcement and penalties on robocalls. As a cosponsor of this legislation, I was glad Congress could work on a bipartisan basis to get it done before the end of the year.

While next year will certainly present new challenges, I wish you a holiday season full of peace and joy!

Chris Van Hollen