Transcript: Sen. Chris Van Hollen on “Face the Nation,” Jan. 7, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, that aired on Jan. 7, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen spent the last several days in the Middle East. He and Senator Jeff Merkley visited the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and he joins us this morning from Amman, Jordan. Senator, what is the choke point? Why isn’t aid making it into Gaza?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Well, Margaret, Senator Merkley and I went to the Rafah crossing to find out exactly that question. There are two big things that are happening. One is the unnecessarily cumbersome process, going through the Israeli screening process, which I believe is the result of political decisions by the Netanyahu coalition. For example, many items that should be allowed to go into Gaza, water- sort of- filtration systems, other systems like that, were in a warehouse of rejected items that we visited. While we were there, we saw a truck turned away that had a big box from UNICEF, which is, of course, the UN organization that helps children. It was a unit to help with water desalinization. It was rejected. And when one item on a truck is rejected, the entire truck is rejected. The other big issue is within Gaza, the so-called deconfliction process, which is just a fancy name for those who are providing humanitarian assistance to have the confidence that they can deliver it without being killed. And according to all the international NGOs that we talked about, who’ve been operating in conflict zones around the world, they’ve never seen a worse process for assuring the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance. And so that, of course, makes it very difficult to get the help to people who need it, people who are starving, and where they’re on the verge of outbreak of cholera and other diseases.

MARGARET BRENNAN: France and Jordan made the decision to airdrop aid in because of those issues going in by land. Should the United States do the same?

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think we should consider every means to try to get desperately needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza. The problem with airdrops is it’s just not at scale. In other words, it’s good. But what we need is far more trucks to be able to cross into Gaza. After all, before the war started, you had 500 trucks crossing into Gaza. And today, you know, this last week, it was around 150 trucks per day. We need to make this a 24/7 operation. The Israeli screening sites are only operating on like an eight hour a day schedule, taking some days off. This is a 24/7 humanitarian crisis. And we need a system that will recognize that people are- are- are dying every day. Of course, some from bombs. We have over 22 people dead, two thirds of them women and children, but also this humanitarian crisis.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said you believe aid’s not getting in because of a political decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If that’s the case, does that government need to face consequences from the United States, their ally?

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Yes, I do think there have been- have to be consequences. And you know, Secretary Blinken and President Biden had been right to insist on two things: a reduction in the unacceptable levels of civilian casualties, and much more cooperation when it comes to providing humanitarian assistance. We’ve not seen that. This is one reason why I and other senators have proposed an amendment that would apply to every country that the United States provides military assistance to, whether it’s Ukraine, Israel or any other country, that would require that country to cooperate fully with the United States in providing humanitarian assistance in an area of conflict where U.S. provided weapons are being used. It would also require all recipients of U.S. military assistance to abide by international humanitarian law. These are some basic principles that should be universally applied by the United States.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The White House so far has not signed onto that. Before I let you go, Sir, I want to ask you, since you’re coming back to Washington to work, 63% of Americans, according to our polling, believe Joe Biden needs to get tougher at the U.S. border. I’m wondering if you are comfortable with provisions that would tighten asylum law and give more expulsion authority to turn away migrants coming to the United States?

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, Margaret, President Biden is well aware of the unacceptable challenges that we’re facing right now at the U.S. border, which is why he provided a large number of additional- proposed additional resources for Border Patrol agents. As you know, there’s a bipartisan group of senators that are discussing various policy changes. I’m looking forward to hearing the results of those discussions. I- I’m told that both the Democratic Senate Caucus and the Republican Senate Caucus may be briefed as early as this week on a framework, although I don’t know for sure. I’m gonna have to look at every proposal before I make any final decision. I can tell you that some of the House proposals are way too extreme. And–


MARGARET BRENNAN: Alright, Senator- Senator- I’m sorry–

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: –undermine the idea of America, and the–


MARGARET BRENNAN: Because of the delay I’m gonna have to speak over you and cut you off because of this commercial break. I apologize, Sir. We’ll be back in a moment.

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