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Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen Outlines What His Party Is Looking For In Results


Now we're going to turn to Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That's the group charged with helping Democrats take back the Senate. Senator Van Hollen, welcome to the program.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It's great to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: Earlier we heard Kelsey talking about Nancy Pelosi in the House speaking about the idea of a win. But the path for Democrats to gain control of the Senate is much more narrow, and you have a lot of Democrats defending ground in states won by President Trump. If these more moderate Democrats lose, what does that tell you about your party's chances nationwide?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, as you said, the Democrats the Senate face a very different political dynamic. We face the toughest political battlefield since the 1960s for any one party because we're defending so many seats and we have so few pickup opportunities.

That being said, the story of this election is that all these races are so close and down-to-the-wire and that if you look at the map, a lot of states that Donald Trump won in 2016 - like Ohio, like Pennsylvania, like Wisconsin, like Michigan - are really in the Democratic column as we go into the final count this evening. So...

CORNISH: What would you need to see to know that you had, say, a mandate from voters to put a check on the president, right? Even he has talked about the idea that this is a vote that's a lot about him.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the fact that you've got these strong Democratic candidates in the states I just mentioned, states that Donald Trump won in 2016, looking like they're in a very strong position to win the seat in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan is a sign that voters in those states who voted for Donald Trump two years ago want a check on the president. They want someone who will hold him accountable.

And then of course, there are the states that not only did Donald Trump won but where he remains very popular, where we have our Senate candidates who are duking it out, I mean, in very competitive races. And these are states where people want a senator who's going to stand up, first and foremost, for their states, and that's what they've done. So they'll work with Donald Trump when it's good for their states. They'll oppose him when it's not.

CORNISH: What does it mean for what we heard a reporter talking about earlier, the idea of what an agenda for Democrats might be going forward, if they're pushing for investigations of the president or even impeachment? That's a message that Republicans have been putting out there to motivate their voters.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right. I mean, Donald Trump has been talking more about impeachment than any Democratic leaders because he thinks it gets his vote out. But the reality...

CORNISH: Is he wrong?

VAN HOLLEN: Yeah, he's wrong. The reality is, in the House, when they do investigations, they're going to be looking into, you know, alleged corruption within the Trump administration. They'll be looking at other things.

And in addition to that, there is a legislative agenda that Democrats in the House and Senate have all talked about, including political and campaign finance reform. That includes, for example, things like the DISCLOSE Act to end the gobs of secret money that is flowing into politics. It means also bringing down the cost of prescription drugs. That's been part of the Democratic platform, something that Donald Trump himself talked about but just hasn't done. But those are the kind of things that I think unite not just Democrats but other voters around the country.

CORNISH: Are you thinking ahead of - is there a strategy for getting things done if you're faced with a divided government - right? - a Republican-controlled Senate and maybe a Democratic-controlled House?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, then of course, everyone's going to have to look for opportunities where we can work together and also, you know, check President Trump whenever necessary. The one area that people have talked about is something that, you know, President Trump talked about back in his campaign, which was modernizing our national infrastructure. But...

CORNISH: We've heard about three different infrastructure weeks. Each and every time they were overtaken by some controversy or another. It's not an idea that's really gotten off the ground, has it?

VAN HOLLEN: Well - well, that's right. I mean, and that's - that's largely because the president submitted a plan that was rejected by both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate. It really was a non-starter.

We have put forward a plan that I think is a good one, both the House and the Senate Democrats. But, you know, that will require the president abandoning the proposal he put forward, which, as I said, was rejected by his own party as well.

CORNISH: That's Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

VAN HOLLEN: It's good to be with you. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.