December 24, 2020

2020 has been a challenging year across our state and our country. We’ve lost friends and family members, and many have struggled to stay afloat financially. And just earlier this month, our state mourned the passing of a principled leader and tireless advocate for Maryland, former Senator Paul Sarbanes. His leadership in preserving the Chesapeake Bay, expanding access to affordable housing, and protecting Main Street investors and consumers from fraud and abusive financial practices are enduring testaments to his legacy of positive change. This is one more loss in a year that has been full of profound hardship, struggle, and pain for so many Marylanders – and has tested the will of every American.

Reflecting back on this year, I’m heartened by the strength and resilience of our communities in weathering these challenging times together. I’m inspired by the frontline workers, researchers, and medical professionals who put themselves in harm’s way to keep Americans safe in this time of crisis. And I’m grateful for all of those who have fought to protect our democracy, promote equality, and speak truth to power.

Getting Coronavirus Aid Across the Finish Line

As I write this letter, we are waiting anxiously to determine whether President Trump is going to sign the new, desperately needed bipartisan coronavirus relief measure that Congress passed on Monday. The President has thrown a final curveball into the process by suggesting he may veto the bill. Doing so would further delay relief to American families and could trigger an avoidable government shutdown. I agree that the direct payments to Americans should be larger – and have supported previous attempts by Democrats to raise these payments to $1,200. But Republicans have repeatedly blocked these efforts, including a push just this morning by Democrats in the House of Representatives to raise the dollar amount of these stimulus checks to $2,000. Only Republicans are standing in the way of us getting this done. 

Now more than ever, Americans are feeling the weight of the pandemic. From watching more of their neighbors and family members fall ill, to struggling to pay mounting bills and put food on the table – the costs of this virus are all too real. That’s why I was pleased Congress was able to come together this week to pass a bipartisan relief package that will bring more support to those who need it most.

This package isn't perfect, but I’m glad that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were able to find common ground and put this plan on the table, and I was pleased to have fought for many of the priorities that were included here and to have helped resolve the final dispute over the powers of the Federal Reserve. 

This bipartisan package makes important progress on provisions that will help Americans weather the storm this winter, including an extension of expanded unemployment benefits and the federal eviction moratorium, as well as rental and food assistance. It also includes direct payments to help millions of families and provides an infusion of funds to many of the programs that are key features of the bipartisan CARES Act, including a more-targeted Paycheck Protection Program focused on the small businesses most in need and those in hard-hit minority communities. In addition, the bill provides necessary resources for testing, tracing, and vaccine distribution. Throughout the negotiations, I worked with my colleagues to include a number of provisions that I’ve been fighting for since the beginning of the pandemic – including vital funding to extend economic relief for families and small businesses, support our transit systems, connect students, families and small businesses to broadband, and bolster SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs.

That being said, I remain disappointed that while this package provides funding for schools, vaccine distribution, and other programs that will relieve budget pressures on state and local governments, it does not provide them with direct support. I strongly believe there is a need to ensure our cities and towns on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic have the resources necessary to keep our communities safe, provide emergency services, and keep first responders on the job. Also, while I’m pleased we got additional funds for broadband – including to support the costs for low-income families – I’m outraged that funding for students through the E-rate program for distance learning was made into a partisan issue by Senate Republicans. I will continue to fight on both of these fronts.

This package does not include everything I had hoped for – and the Congress will need to work together with the Biden Administration to provide more support in the future. But this plan will help families, workers, and small businesses across the country battle the impact of this pandemic over the winter months, and it would have been unconscionable for Congress to leave without providing this essential help.

Standing Up for Our Troops and National Defense 

In addition to his veto threat on the COVID-19 relief package, the President yesterday vetoed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This vital legislation includes a pay raise for our troops, critical investments for Maryland’s military installations, and support for key national security priorities. Trump’s veto of this bill, which has passed Congress and been signed into law without fail every year for the last sixty years, is based on the worst of reasons. He’s taking this unprecedented step because it does not include unrelated provisions to punish Twitter for fact-checking his lies and because it moves forward on renaming military bases that glorify those who fought with the Confederacy to protect slavery. It’s clear that once again President Trump is putting his ego and his own self-interest before the interests of the American people, our armed forces, and our national security. This veto will be welcome news to our adversaries. I urge a Congressional override of this action as soon as possible.

Supporting Maryland Priorities

I was glad to see Congress agree on a bipartisan government funding package to invest in crucial priorities across our country and prevent another shameful government shutdown. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I fought for a number of key provisions in the final spending bill that will directly benefit Marylanders – including funds to strengthen our schools, invest in health care services and biomedical research, support key federal facilities and installations in Maryland, modernize our infrastructure and transportation networks, and boost research and preservation efforts for the Chesapeake Bay.

I was also pleased to see the Senate unanimously pass a number of bipartisan bills I’ve been working on throughout this Congress. First, the Senate passed my Child Care Protection Improvement Act, legislation that I introduced alongside Senate and House colleagues that will bolster criminal background checks for childcare employees and better ensure our children are safe. It’s now headed to the President’s desk, and I urge him to sign it without delay. The Senate also passed my bipartisan Protecting American Intellectual Property Act, which mandates strong economic penalties on firms and individuals involved in stealing American intellectual property. The need could not be more urgent – especially after the series of cyberattacks we have witnessed aimed at the COVID-19 vaccine. The Senate also passed my BUILD Act, legislation to ensure nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity are not constrained by overly burdensome regulations, so they can get help where it’s needed, fast. These bills must now pass the House of Representatives, and I hope that chamber will take action to move them to the President’s desk. Finally, I’m pleased that my bipartisan Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act has been signed into law, so we can protect American investors and their retirement savings from foreign companies operating on U.S. stock exchanges. This action will safeguard the millions of families that rely on modest investments to retire, send their kids to college, and weather financial emergencies.

Honoring the Memory of Henrietta Lacks with Action

The Senate has also passed the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act, named after Marylander Henrietta Lacks who died of cervical cancer in 1951. While treating her for cancer, doctors took samples of her tumor and created the HeLa cell line from her remarkably resilient tissue – the first human cell line that was able to reproduce indefinitely. Without her or her family’s knowledge, Henrietta Lacks had her cells used for medical research, which helped lead to some of medicine’s most important breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine and treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease.

For too long, Henrietta Lacks’ story went untold. While our nation will never be able to adequately express its gratitude for her historic contributions to medical research and the countless lives her cells have saved, this legislation is a step in the right direction. This Act would direct the Government Accountability Office to study and publish a report regarding barriers to participation in federally funded cancer clinical trials by populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in such trials. The bill will help ensure that all people – especially those from communities of color – are fairly represented in cancer trials and ultimately receive the treatments they deserve. I was honored to introduce this legislation alongside my friend, the late Elijah Cummings, and I’m proud that Henrietta Lacks’ family supported the effort to improve cancer treatments in her name. This bill is now off to the President’s desk, and I urge him to sign it into law immediately.

Looking Toward the Year Ahead

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said, “The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.” I’m hopeful that the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will usher in a new era of compassion in our politics and in our government’s response to the ongoing public health and economic crisis. President-elect Biden has promised to be a President for all Americans – someone who will fight to better the lives of both those who voted for him and those who didn’t. From day one, I’ll be working with the Biden-Harris Administration to support America’s workers, families, and small businesses as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. And I’ll be fighting for Maryland priorities in our efforts to build back better: from rooting out systemic racism, to creating an economy and education system that provides all Americans with the opportunity to succeed, to passing a 21st century infrastructure bill that will expand access to broadband, strengthen public transit, and invest in green technologies. I look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to address these pressing challenges facing our nation.

Despite these difficult times, I hope you’re able to find joy this holiday season with loved ones and family members, together or apart. This wasn’t the year any of us expected, but I know that we will get through it. Our brightest days are still to come. I wish all Marylanders a happy and safe New Year. To 2021!







          Chris Van Hollen