Transcript: Sen. Chris Van Hollen on “Face the Nation,” May 12, 2024

The following is a transcript of an interview with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, that aired on May 12, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we go now to Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. Senator, the White House is continuing to send weapons to Israel. But as you’ve heard the Secretary of State say they’re narrowly tailoring this to withhold specific kinds of munitions. Does this policy and the administration’s explanation of it make sense to you?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Margaret, it’s good to be with you and Happy Mother’s Day. And let me just say that, you know, Senator Cotton totally misrepresented the position of President Biden and the Biden administration. So I think the President is absolutely right to withhold these big, big bombs that could be used in Rafah. Remember, the president of the United States warned Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly that if there was an all out invasion in Rafah that the United States would make policy changes and Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly ignored the President of the United States, ignored the President’s efforts to try to reduce civilian casualties, ignored our efforts to try to get more humanitarian assistance into Gaza and ignored the priority of trying to bring back the hostages. So yes, I support the President’s actions here. I thought that were very important to take. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You though, were part of this national security memorandum that we talked about with the Secretary, you help tailor it and you said after it came out, that the expertise and analysis of the State Department has been swept aside to facilitate a predetermined policy outcome based on political convenience. Are you saying that Secretary- the Secretary of State’s inability to conclude anything in this report is a political choice, not based on fact?

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, I believe the facts and the law show what a lot of independent groups that the administration often relies on shows. So Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, an independent task force that was established to review the facts and the law, all concluded that you look at some of these incidents these clearly were violations of international humanitarian law. So while I appreciate the fact that as Secretary Blinken said, the administration determined that it was reasonable to conclude that violations of international law had- had happened. I think there’s enough on the books to be able to point to specific cases and make specific determinations. And on that score, the administration did duck the hard questions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, specifically, do you fear that this report helped essentially give political cover to Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to do what he’s doing?

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, I fear that by not providing an unvarnished accounting of the facts and the law, we have essentially stated that what is happening in Gaza- so for example, with respect to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the total restriction of delivery of humanitarian assistance since the beginning of the war, by not calling that out flatly and saying that there have been arbitrary restrictions put on it, I fear that we have set a very, very low bar.  A very low standard for what’s acceptable, and I think that will come back to haunt us. So yes, Margaret, I worry that we didn’t call out very clearly, the fact that those restrictions on humanitarian assistance, which is leading to hundreds of thousands of people on the verge of starvation, over 25 people already starve to death, including kids. I do worry that that has essentially allowed a low bar to go without pointing it out very clearly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this week, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley said, “before we get self righteous about what Israel is doing”, we shouldn’t forget the US killed a lot of innocent people in Iraq, in Syria. He said the US killed 12,000 Innocent French civilians, bombed Hiroshima, Nagasaki, 69 Japanese cities. What do you make of statements like that? Because Prime Minister Netanyahu says something very similar.

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, Margaret, there’s no doubt that- excuse me, that the United States has not been perfect- far from perfect. But since World War Two, we’ve adopted many more measures to try to restrict civilian harm and we try to improve it all the time. And of course, after World War Two, the world adopted the fourth article of the Geneva Conventions which is designed specifically to protect civilians at war. So, you know, Milley can talk about the things that happened in World War Two, but the world tried to learn some of the lessons after World War Two. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. We’re gonna take a break and come back and finish this conversation, Senator. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: And welcome back to Face the Nation. We return now to our conversation with Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen. Senator, we’ve been talking about the Biden administration. But I want to refer to what’s happening in our own domestic politics right now, related to Gaza. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on another network this week that the failed diplomacy of her husband’s administration was a the best missed opportunity for a Palestinian state. She’s said that before. But she said student protesters don’t know very much about the history of the Middle East or, frankly, about history in many areas of the world, including in our own country. What do you make of the characterization and the concerns right now, among so many young voters?

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: Well, I thought, Margaret, that Secretary Clinton’s comments, in that regard, were quite dismissive of students’ concerns about the awful humanitarian crisis and high civilian death toll in Gaza. And I should point out that we should be held to keep two ideas in our head at the same time. One is the right of Americans to peacefully protest, but also the need to make sure that students feel safe on campus. And of course, we also need to make sure that we stamp out antisemitism and hate wherever we see it. But I believe that the great majority of the students are protesting, are following very closely what’s happening in Gaza. They see what’s a very high civilian death toll. And so we can certainly revisit history and past negotiations. But I believe that the overwhelming majority of the students, not all and there are some, there are some very bad elements that are involved, as well as on the counter protests side. But I believe that the students do understand what’s happening in Gaza with respect to the civilian casualties.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Van Hollen, thank you very much for your insight today and your reaction. And we’ll be back with more Face the Nation– 

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: — Thank you, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: — and a very special Mother’s Day story.