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U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen on border security and aid to Israel and Ukraine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Senate and White House negotiators worked through the weekend to try to hammer out a border security agreement that would include additional funding for Israel and for Ukraine, but a compromise may still be weeks away. Here's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on NBC yesterday.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: We feel like we're being jammed. We're not anywhere close to a deal. It'll go into next year.

MARTIN: Joining us now to tell us more about this is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He serves on the Appropriations and Foreign Relations committees. Good morning, Senator.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So if the Senate leaves town without coming to an agreement here, what does this mean for Israel and for Ukraine?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, time is of the essence, especially with respect to getting military assistance to Ukraine. President Zelenskyy came to the Senate just last week and talked about the urgency of the moment in terms of additional munitions. That is why we need to do everything we can to try to get that military assistance to Ukraine before the end of the year.

MARTIN: Before the end of this year?

VAN HOLLEN: That's still our goal. You know, we're getting reports that they made progress over the weekend on border negotiations. We still haven't seen any framework agreement, but we do need to press ahead.

MARTIN: So, you know, look - obviously, talking about negotiations that are going on behind closed doors that you're not a part of - it's a very small group - really hard. The devil is in the details, as we say. But having said all of that, are there concessions that you think Democrats would be willing to make to secure a deal?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Michel, I should first point out that the supplemental request that President Biden submitted to the Senate, to the Congress, contains substantial resources for additional border security - billions and billions of dollars for new Border Patrol agents, funds to get more screening equipment to prevent fentanyl from crossing the border. So all of that is part of the president's request. These negotiations are talking about certain policy changes, and the devil is in the details. And so Democrats are willing to have discussions, of course, about these things. But in terms of moving forward, I would certainly have to see the fine print.

MARTIN: So the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that two-thirds of Democrats support funding for Ukraine, but less than half support aid to Israel. And Republican approach to the border has not been popular with Democrats. So let's say that there is a deal. Are you worried about how a potential border security deal will be received by Democratic voters?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Democratic voters support border security, and that, again, is why President Biden included these resources in the plan he has submitted. But it is important, obviously, to see what the details are. For example, H.R.2, which is this House Republican bill, would allow long detention and, in my view, mistreatment of kids coming across the border alone.

And the real question, Michel, is really, who is ultimately calling the shots in these negotiations on the border? Is it the Trump MAGA folks, or are there - are they Republicans who really want to get a deal?

We saw the outrageous comments by Donald Trump, you know, over the weekend about immigrants poisoning the blood of America - horrific statements. And so there is a serious question about whether or not Republicans ultimately want to come to a deal on Ukraine or on border.

MARTIN: Well, OK, before we let you go, this - obviously, there's so much to talk about here, and the details are really what matters here. But before we let you go, you're one of five senators asking the White House to pressure Israel and Egypt to let more journalists into Gaza. What do you think Americans are missing because of the limited access that journalists have there?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Senator Schatz and I and a few others did write to the administration because, as you were earlier reporting, there's been, at least for the last couple of days, a blackout. We think it's very important that journalists be able to report and they be able to report safely. We've seen a huge number of journalists killed by Israeli fire. And we want to make sure that we have journalists who can report from conflict zones. President Biden has talked about how important it is to protect journalists in conflict zones so that we know in detail what's happening. You were just reporting on a humanitarian disaster. We need the facts.

MARTIN: OK. That is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. He represents Maryland in the United States Senate. Senator, thank you for your time.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.