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Great choice: Chris Van Hollen for DCCC

Posted by Thomas Nephew on December 19th, 2006

Nancy Pelosi has chosen Montgomery County’s own Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) to succeed Rahm Emanuel as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the New York Times’ Greg Giroux reports. Giroux quotes from a succinct political bio of Van Hollen by Emanuel at the DCCC web site:

“Coming in the same class as Congressman Van Hollen, it was clear to me from his hard-fought primary victory and even tougher general election win [in 2000, agains Connie Morella — ed.] that he had an acute political capacity rarely found in Washington,” Emanuel said Tuesday in a statement, in which he also noted that as head of the 2006 candidate recruitment team, Van Hollen “helped create the field that became the Democratic majority.”

Van Hollen co-chaired the “Red to Blue” committee of the DCCC, recruiting and supporting candidates in districts that had leaned Republican in the past, but seemed vulnerable in ’06.

This is a great choice. Van Hollen is no triangulating, finger-to-the-wind DLC Democrat — Maryland blogger Stephanie Dray got this admirably succinct position from Van Hollen’s staff on the issue of torture and the MCA bill:

“Congressman Van Hollen opposes torture, opposes efforts to redefine torture, and opposes efforts to redefine our commitment to the Geneva Conventions.”

Van Hollen also took the lead in fighting for the Davis-Bacon Act when Bush wanted to revoke that in the Gulf Coast after Katrina, and voted “Nay” on the bankruptcy bill — where both Steny Hoyer and John Murtha voted “Yea.” He also stands for clean politics, most lately as a stalwart supporter of Jamie Raskin in this year’s Democratic primary in my state district when misleading mudslinging began to get out of hand.

I have a feeling — at least I sure hope — that Van Hollen can also iron out something else that got out of hand: the rancorous differences between his predecessor and Democratic party chair Howard Dean. The DCCC and the DNC have different purposes, of course: the former is all about the next Congressional election, the latter is about the party as a whole, at federal, state, and local levels. But Dean’s 50-state strategy has already paid dividends for the Democratic Party in the past election, and it will only get better as more and more strong candidates emerge at the local level across the country.

There’s no need for Congressional leadership to alienate rank and file Democrats or undermine what we’re all working for in different ways: a rekindling of a progressive, effective Democratic party. Both Dean and Van Hollen stand for that, and I have high hopes they’ll work together as closely as possible in setting agendas and plotting strategies for the years ahead.

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UPDATE, 12/20: In comments, Nell Lancaster recalls Van Hollen’s letter to Rice criticizing U.S. policy regarding Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon this summer — and his subsequent rowback/clarification/call it what you will. I found links to the statements involved, and agree this was a disappointment, however rare.
UPDATE, 12/28: Giroux (writing for CQPolitics this time) interviews Van Hollen: “The main thing for our members is to be able to go into the next election telling voters that they heard the message that was delivered in November, and that they are following through and keeping the commitments that were made.” Via OnBackground at “Free State Politics.”

7 Responses to “Great choice: Chris Van Hollen for DCCC”

  1. Nell Says:

    Seems like a sound guy, overall, but I was saddened by the spectacle of van Hollen being forced to grovel to AIPAC for daring to write a letter criticizing U.S. policy regarding Israel’s assault on Lebanon this summer. After that episode, Rahm became his best buddy. Chalk up another ‘made man’ for the little fixer.
    Do I sound bitter? I am.

  2. eRobin Says:

    Is there anyone in Congress who doesn’t kowtow to AIPAC?

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I’d managed to miss this whole episode, thanks for bringing it up.

    Here are Van Hollen’s July 30 letter to Secretary of State Rice at Buzzflash, and his letter (undated) labeled “Response to Community” at the Van Hollen Watch site.

    Basically, I hate to say it but you’re right, this was kind of disappointing on Van Hollen’s part. In the 2d one, he takes refuge in saying he didn’t flat out call Israel’s response this summer disproportionate:

    Obviously, when we are fighting a war of this nature there will be civilian deaths despite IsraelÂ?s best efforts to avoid them. Therefore, and I want to make this crystal clear, I have never suggested that IsraelÂ?s military actions are not justified. Nor have I suggested that anyone, except Hezbollah, was culpable in the loss of civilian lives and infrastructure in both Israel and Lebanon. For that reason, I have rejected the charge made by many that Israel has used disproportionate force in Lebanon. I intentionally did not use that phraseology in my letter because I believe the extent and level of force used have been justified.

    (emph. added) But that was the tenor of his letter to Rice, and he was right to say so to Rice, I think:

    The Israeli response, however, has now gone beyond the destruction of Hezbollah’s military assets. It has caused huge damage to Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, resulted in the large loss of civilian life, and produced over 750,000 refugees. Hezbollah is undeniably the culprit, but it is the Lebanese people — not Hezbollah — who are increasingly the victims of the violence. As a result, the Israeli bombing campaign, supported by the United States, has transformed Lebanese anger at Hezbollah into growing hostility toward Israel and the United States.

    (emph. added)

    To be clear, I don’t think a trip to Israel or emphasizing support for Israel (as he also did in the Rice letter) is “groveling” — nor are you necessarily implying that. But in effect, he backed away from a correct, moderate criticism of Israel’s disproportionate actions this summer, and that’s too bad.

  4. Nell Says:

    There are only a handful. For example, I believe a House vote was taken in the middle of the Lebanon war this summer, and if I recall correctly, the “wrong” side of the vote was a single-digit number.

  5. Nell Says:

    Because AIPAC, and as a result of their work, Congress are so far to the right of the American public on Israel-Palestine issues, there is room for an alternative to AIPAC.
    This article by Gregory Levey at Salon (sub or ad/day pass) gives a little background on some initial efforts at forming such a lobby. I’d like to be hopeful, but almost everyone involved in those meetings has disavowed any intent to create an alternative (competitor) to AIPAC.
    AIPAC’s biggest funders are conservative Republicans, even though most Jewish voters in the U.S. vote Democratic. There are also a number of major donors to the Democratic Party who hold the party’s major committees to the AIPAC line. One or two of them sat out this election cycle, so it’s conceivable that this fall’s success without them has put a tiny bit of spine into Dean and others. But I doubt it; there’s a presidential election coming up.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Interesting. If it comes off, I think it would be an alternative to AIPAC whether it was advertised that way or not.

  7. newsrackblog.com » Blog Archive » Van Hollen disappoints on Iran Says:

    […] much of a chance for all I know, but that shouldn’t have mattered. While I’ve generally sung his praises here in this little blog of mine, this time I think Van Hollen really screwed up badly, […]

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