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Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen Reacts To Trump's Address


A total waste of time - that's how President Trump is describing the talks he had with congressional leaders at the White House this afternoon. The only thing the two sides seem to agree on is that the meeting was not productive, and there's no deal in sight. Here's Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.


CHUCK SCHUMER: He sort of slammed the table. And when Leader Pelosi said she didn't agree with the wall, he just walked out and said, we have nothing to discuss.

SHAPIRO: Nothing to discuss. So where do things go from here? We're going to talk about that now with Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who joins us from Capitol Hill. Thanks for being with us.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Ari, good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Well, far from getting closer to a resolution, it sounds like today's meeting drove the two sides farther apart. So where do you see things going next?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's a good question. It was a disappointing meeting. The president invites you over, then walks out of his own meeting. I do think it's time for Republican senators to step up at this point in time.

In the Senate, we have two bills that were passed by the new House of Representatives as their first order of business. And they would reopen the government. Both bills have had support from Republican senators before, and so they really have no excuse for not taking up bills that they've supported in the past simply because the president says he doesn't want them to act on them. We're...

SHAPIRO: When you ask...

VAN HOLLEN: ...A separate branch of government. We're a separate branch of government. We shouldn't be contracting out our votes to the president of the United States.

SHAPIRO: When you ask Republican senators to, in your words, step up, you're asking them to defy the president and the leader of their own party. That doesn't seem likely, does it?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we're asking them to do their jobs. And many of them have said in the last several days that they agree with us that the first order of business is to reopen the government. About four to five Republican senators are on the record now saying that's what we should do. And then we can continue discussions with the president over the most effective way to provide border security.

This is not a dispute about the need for secure borders. There's agreement on that. This is a dispute over whether or not paying tens of billions of dollars ultimately for a 2,000-mile wall is the best way to do that. It's not. And that's what the experts say. But let's reopen the government, and then we can have that discussion.

SHAPIRO: The president says he is willing to let this shutdown go on for months or years. He is not known for backing down. Your state, Maryland, has more federal government employees than most. Are you willing to wait this out if you can't get the Republicans on board to join you and defy the president?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, this is why we're working overtime to try to resolve this with our Republican Senate colleagues. You're absolutely right, Ari. People are already suffering. Senator Cardin and I are going to be meeting again with federal employees this Friday, which will be the first time when they miss a full paycheck. I had meetings with federal employees yesterday. And these are folks who are one paycheck away from missing a mortgage payment or a rent payment.

I heard President Trump say he could relate to his federal employees. I can tell you that that is not the case. The president doesn't know what it's like to have to skip his mortgage payment. If he did, he wouldn't be holding the country and 800,000 federal employees hostage in the way he is.

SHAPIRO: The president has left open the possibility of declaring a national emergency at the border and acting to build the wall without support from Congress. How would Democrats respond if the president takes that move?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that would be an abuse of power. And based on what I've been reading and my reading of the statutes and listening to experts, that could very well run afoul of the law. It's true that the president can declare a national emergency. What is not at all clear is whether he can use that declaration to deploy the military to build a wall along the southern border.

I don't think he has that authority. And I've been listening to Republican House members, including the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who says he would oppose the president's misusing his authority in that way.

SHAPIRO: All right. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, thank you for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: And thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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