Democrats Win Washington Trifecta

The Democrats are in contol of the House, Senate and White House. Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He tells Renee Montagne that voters are fed up with gridlock, and they expect things to get done now.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And joining us now is the man who helped the Democrats win in the House. Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Good morning.

Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland; Chairman, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, your party did increase its advantage in the House. Add that to control of the Senate plus the White House, and it seems as if you can do pretty much what you want. How do Republicans fit into this?

Representative VAN HOLLEN: Well, we're pleased to have an expanded majority in the House and Senate, look forward to working with President Barack Obama. As he has said, and as the House leadership has said, we look forward to working with our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle to get things done. I think the biggest message out of yesterday's election was that people are fed up with gridlock in Washington.

They want people to work together regardless of their political leanings. They understand that we face some big, big challenges in this country that we can only resolve by coming together. So I think there's going to be this period of time that I hope we can sustain where people will want to really come together and solve some of these problems. We're certainly going to reach across the aisle. I would... ..TEXT: MONTAGNE: Give us an example of how Democrats would work with Republicans on an important issue in the new Congress.

Representative VAN HOLLEN: Oh, sure. I mean, let's take energy policy for example. I think there's an interest in moving forward there. There's interest on all sides, I think, in developing renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives, more focus on clean energy. I think there is room for common ground there. I think if you saw in the last couple of weeks in the Congress, while there were bills that passed the House that were defeated in the Senate - for example, to create a nationwide renewable electricity portfolio standard - I think you had enough Republicans supporting the idea. That's something that we could get done. That would be a very important step forward toward clean energy by setting that kind of national standard.

MONTAGNE: Although some moderate Republicans lost their seats, are you left with a more conservative minority to work with?

Representative VAN HOLLEN: We may well be. And there will be this period of time where we'll have to get some sense as to whether or not the Republican minority in the House and the Senate are interested in finding that common ground. I mean, there is a danger that the remaining Republican leadership decides to become even more ideological.

I would think that the lesson they would have learned from this election is that it's important to try and reach across the aisle, to try and be pragmatic in trying to solve problems. I hope that that will be one of the lessons learned after what many of us believe was a Bush administration that often took the position that, you know, it's our way or the highway. And if that's the view of, you know, the Republicans in the Congress, that will be difficult. I think that the message the American people sent was very different.

MONTAGNE: Right.

Representative VAN HOLLEN: And I believe that many on the Republican side will agree that it's time to try and find some common ground where we can.

MONTAGNE: You know, earlier this morning, a Republican strategist, Matthew Dowd, appearing on this program told us the biggest challenge facing a President Obama could be getting his own party to go along with his agenda.

Representative VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think on the big issues that President Obama - President-elect Obama ran on, there's a lot of common ground with the Democrats in the Congress and even some Republicans with respect to the first order of the day which is going to be to adopt an economic recovery plan. He's talked about making major investments in infrastructure, in transportation, as well as green jobs.

MONTAGNE: Although with less money to work with.

Representative VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's the case. We have - you know, we have a short-term issue and we have the long-term issue. The short-term challenge is to get the economy moving again. You know, we have lost more than 759,000 jobs in this country since January...

MONTAGNE: Congressman.

Representative VAN HOLLEN: And see growth actually, you know, go negative. So, that challenge in the short-term is to give the economy a boost.

MONTAGNE: Sorry, this is - I'm so sorry, we have run out of time. It's live Democrat Chris Van Hollen speaking to us. Thank you very much. This is NPR News.

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