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Maryland senator on stopgap spending bill

DAVID GURA, HOST:

I want to bring in Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen now. He represents Maryland, which is home to some 160,000 federal workers, workers who will very well be going back to work on Monday if this bill passes. Senator Van Hollen also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he's been a vocal supporter of sending aid to Ukraine, which, as you just heard, is not included in the temporary funding bill the House passed this afternoon. Senator Van Hollen, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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

GURA: Let me ask you first off here if this is a bill that you can support, I know you've been caucusing with your Democratic colleagues. Is it something you can get behind?

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, I will support this bill. I think it's very important that we keep the government going. This bill does that at current levels and also provides disaster assistance. So the answer is yes, I will be voting for this bill.

GURA: I mentioned how many of your constituents work for the federal government, and I wonder what you've been hearing from them as this deadline has grown closer and closer.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I've been hearing a lot of understandable anxiety, not just from federal government employees but from others who will be negatively impacted or would be negatively impacted by a shutdown, which is virtually every one of my constituents, certainly, if a shutdown were to be prolonged. So avoiding that is obviously a very important step, keeping the government open so that we can address the other issues as well.

GURA: I laid out those competing stakes here - yes, keeping the government open, not, at this point, sending aid to Ukraine. How do you juggle those two things? Do you see this short-term spending bill as a victory of any kind?

VAN HOLLEN: I do see it as a victory because it keeps the government open for 45 days. Look, I would have rather gotten a full year budget passed, but given where we are and where we were, this is a positive step forward. Look. I also prefer the Senate bill. I prefer to have the funding for Ukraine assistance in this bill. But - and I want to emphasize this - you do have bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate to continue supporting the people of Ukraine in their fight against Putin. And I'm absolutely confident that we will get that done in the next 45 days.

GURA: What do you say to those who are characterizing this as a loss for Ukraine? There have been growing numbers of congressional Republicans questioning the U.S. financial commitment to Ukraine, and today's events, I suppose, could give that more momentum. Are you concerned that you won't be able to pull this back in a final deal?

VAN HOLLEN: I'm absolutely confident that we will be able to have continued assistance to Ukraine in a final deal. I'm confident that the president will speak later today after the Senate passes this bill, and the Senate will pass this bill, underscoring, once again, our commitment to uninterrupted assistance for Ukraine. And again, what we saw in the House was finally Speaker McCarthy being willing to take on some of his right-wing MAGA Republicans.

Of course, in order to pass this, he needed Democrats, and you heard that a lot more Democrats voted for this than Republicans. And those Democrats are going to be insisting on support for Ukraine, for the people of Ukraine and their fight against Putin's war of aggression. So you have bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate to do that. We just got to get it done in the next 45 days. But you're in a better position to continue to support Ukraine when the U.S. government is open than when it's shut.

GURA: So much changed between when I had breakfast and when I had my sandwich at lunch. You know that well. And I wonder how much this surprised you, this change in trajectory that we saw on Capitol Hill today.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes, it was a surprise. We expected to have a cloture vote here in the Senate, meaning to get over 70 votes, Democrats and Republicans, to send the Democratic and Republican bill over to the House. That had been the trajectory when we woke up this morning. The House obviously took this action, and so things have changed. One thing that has not changed, though, is our commitment to make sure that we get funds to support the people of Ukraine. And as I said, better to have the government open than shut as we try to do that.

GURA: If this passes, you and your colleagues have 45 days to find some middle ground. Your crystal ball is better than mine when it comes to what's going to happen with Congress. How likely do you see things changing, that you see some comedy and sides coming together here again if this bill passes over the next 45 days?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, what you see is the beginning, a little crack in the House where Speaker McCarthy, until today, had been essentially doing the bidding of the very far-right wing of his caucus, the MAGA wing of his caucus. So this may - but I hesitate just to say may - open that door further to bipartisan action in the House of Representatives. Democrats were essential to getting this done. We do expect - many people expect a challenge, Speaker McCarthy coming as early as next week from within his caucus. So in order for us to get stuff done, we're going to have to do it together, Democrats and Republicans.

GURA: That's Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Senator, thanks for the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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