The Atlantic: Opinion: Russell Berman: U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen Ditches The House For a Shot at The Senate
Just to start off, I’m a big fan of Representative Chris Van Hollen. I’ve hoped that he would at least look to run statewide in Maryland at least since 2011 when Democrats lost the House of Representatives. Had he run for Governor of Maryland last year, he’s probably Governor right now, instead of Conservative Republican Larry Hogan. Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown ran a bad campaign in a very Democratic state and lost to someone who ran a very good campaign. I consider Representative Van Hollen to be the star of the Democratic Caucus in the House and believe the House is simply too small of a stage for him. Especially serving in the minority where Democrats are now thirty seats away from the majority.
But lets look at some of the differences between being a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator and especially in Chris Van Hollen’s case. And how running for Senate will change his political landscape. Representative Van Hollen is currently the Ranking Member of the Budget Committee. If it were to snow in hell in 2016 and Democrats were to win back the House, Van Hollen becomes Chairman of that committee. As well as having a real opportunity to be the next Democratic Speaker of the House. Which might not be until 2020 at the earliest, especially if the next President is also a Democrat. But Senate Democrats have a real shot, perhaps 50-50 or better of winning back the Senate in 2016.
Which means that Van Hollen as Senator Chris Van Hollen could go from being in the minority even the ranking committee member, top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, to a freshman Senator with experience in the House Democratic Leadership, whose also a real policy wonk. Who could start of his first Senate term in the Democratic Leadership. As Harry Reid’s chief political adviser or something, perhaps caucus chairman. Unless you’re in leadership in the House or a leader on one of the full committees, Chairman or Ranking Member, it is very easy to get lost in the House. Especially if you’re in the minority, because you have 435 Representatives who don’t represent a state, but a section of a state. Where the majority rules on everything and where the minority isn’t even allowed to offer amendments and substitutes to bills that the majority writes them self, most of the time.
But as a Senator, you’re not just one vote, but a real decider. Where not just your leader needs to listen to you and take you seriously, but the leader of the other party may need to consult you as well. Especially if you’re trusted and respected by at least your caucus. Because the Senate Leader and Minority Leader both need votes. The Leader needs sixty on almost everything and generally doesn’t have it with just their caucus The Minority Leader generally needs forty-one to stop whatever the majority wants to do by them self and generally has that with just their members. But to pass a final bill the Minority Leader needs to get sixty as well. A lot of their members and work out an agreement with the Majority Leader to get the other votes.
And because of how the Senate works which many times looks like two competing lawyers working out settlements with each other, each member is very important. Each member can say to their leader or the leader of the other party, “look, I know you need my vote on this. I can help you if you agree to do this for me.” Like supporting an amendment or putting new language in the bill. But if you’re in the House, all you really have is the ability to vote yes or no for the most part. And if you’re in the minority, you’re voting no on a lot of bills that are going to pass anyway. Which becomes the ultimate losing cause.
Chris Van Hollen is someone who could potentially be the next Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Housing or Commerce, U.S. Trade Representative, Attorney General of the United States, Vice President and even President at some point. There’s so much potential for him as a public servant because of his background and knowledge. And being a member of the minority in the House of Representatives, even a senior member is simply too small of a stage for him. If not the Senate in 2016, then maybe the cabinet under a Democratic President in 2017. He’s more than ready to take the next step in his public service career. And its time that he makes this move.