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Politics & Government

Sen. Chris Van Hollen On The Democrats' Strategy Going Forward

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Democrats boycotted Senate votes to advance President Trump's Cabinet nominees this week, and they have threatened to filibuster his new Supreme Court nominee. We are joined now by Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland. He's chair of the Senate Democrats Campaign Committee and joins us now. Senator, thanks very much for being with us.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It's good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: A Republican president picked a conservative judge who, in fact, went to Harvard Law at the same time as Barack Obama. Then he went on to Oxford. He's been a distinguished appellate judge, and he's been appointed to replace a conservative Supreme Court justice. Is that about the best a minority party can expect?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, Scott, this judge is going to have incredible influence over the lives of people throughout this country, and the public deserves a thorough vetting of this judge's ideas, his philosophy. I can tell you my early investigation leads to some troubling conclusions about him siding with corporate interests over working people and consumers. But our job is to thoroughly examine the record and make the best decision for the American people. And one of the reasons there is a 60-vote requirement essentially in the Senate is to make sure you have somebody who's in the mainstream.

SIMON: Do you think Democrats will filibuster, should filibuster?

VAN HOLLEN: I think that every member of the Senate, including all the Democrats, are going to do their job for the American people, recognizing the incredible influence this person is going to have in their lives. And that's why you're going to get a thorough vetting. And as I said, at least my preliminary investigation has led to some troubling findings, but that's the whole purpose of the hearing process.

SIMON: But as I don't have to tell you, Senator, you're obviously more in touch with this opinion than even people in the news industry. A number of your colleagues in the Senate say that they feel no obligation to move this nomination along, in part payback for the way that Judge Garland was treated and in part because they say their supporters just don't want them to cast a vote that will enable Trump's election to be on the Supreme Court.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's not going to be moved along if people determine that this judge is outside the mainstream and is effectively going to harm working people at the expense of - and support big corporate interests. Look, I think, Scott, the American public understands that Senate Democrats are the last line of defense between the Donald Trump administration and a lot of bad things happening, including the effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, including the effort to turn the keys of the economy back over to Wall Street. And the American public wants checks and balances on this president.

We've also been the first to go forward with a plan to modernize our infrastructure, which is one of the things Donald Trump has said he wanted to do in the campaign. In fact, it's the only thing he mentioned the night he was elected. But it's Democrats that have put forward a plan for infrastructure modernization, so we'll fight him when he tries to turn back the clock. We want to do good things for the public where possible.

SIMON: But at the same time, Senator, is it wise for Democrats to spend a few years telling the American people that Republicans have been a bunch of obstructionists and then do the same thing?

VAN HOLLEN: Nobody is obstructing anything except for efforts by this administration to put in place people in Cabinet positions who are going to hurt American families. So for example, Betsy DeVos, the nominee for the Department of Education, has a history of opposing public education. She has supported chart - failing for-profit charter schools in the state of Michigan. And that's why you have two Republican senators joining us in opposition and maybe more. So we're just doing our job.

Look, the CNN poll that came out just yesterday shows Donald Trump with only a 44 percent approval rating. That's the lowest of any incoming president by far. And he seems determined to drive his own numbers even lower, which is why you see outpourings of public support like the women's marches, why you see these rallies. That momentum is what is fueling the effort to make sure Donald Trump can't trample over people's rights.

SIMON: Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.