Feb. 8, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Van Hollen No Longer Flawless

It was an uncharacteristically rough week for Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

The Maryland Democrat, who is widely viewed as a possible future Speaker, has thrown himself into the middle of the legislative push to roll back a controversial Supreme Court decision lifting restrictions on corporate political spending. But the months-long effort blew up last week — just as it was finally due to hit the floor — after a deal that Van Hollen crafted to win the support of the National Rifle Association sparked a firestorm of criticism from across the ideological spectrum both on and off Capitol Hill.

Van Hollen, who serves as both the Assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and other leaders are committed to salvaging the package. Along with the White House, House leaders consider it a top political priority to block an expected flood of corporate money onto an already challenging cycle. And with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dead set on forging ahead, there remains a strong likelihood that her team will muscle a tweaked version through the chamber this week.

The outcome — and whether the measure can move in the Senate — will weigh on Van Hollen’s stock in a Caucus through which he has risen quickly.

The process has already underlined a long-running skepticism of Van Hollen’s handling of dicey political issues among some of the most conservative Democrats, who believe that as head of the DCCC, he is insensitive to their challenges defending seats deep in Republican territory. On the campaign finance bill, the knocks from that corner of the Caucus and their allies in leadership have centered on the Van Hollen camp’s coordination with government reform groups, which have pushed for the strongest disclosure standards possible without regard to the political fallout.

Van Hollen contends that the bill remains on track despite a few bumps in the road, although he acknowledged last week that it’s not an easy lift.

“This bill in one form or another would take on every special interest in Washington,” he said. “When you have a bill like this that shines more sunlight, you’ve got every special interest that likes to hide in the darkness come out to try and kill it.”

Van Hollen defended the deal reached with the NRA as an absolute necessity to get the votes for the measure. “I would challenge anybody to give me a scenario where you can get a bill through without some kind of adjustment,” he said.

And Van Hollen took note that the pro-reform groups are still backing the bill despite the controversial carve-out. “All of those groups have concluded that even with the adjustments in the bill, it would be a huge loss for the voters and the public if this bill is to fail,” he said. “If this bill fails, the special interests win. That’s clear.”

But internal Democratic tension reached a boil last week, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other large business groups ramped up their opposition. Highlighting the stakes, top chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten said his group is telling lawmakers that if the group’s opposition to “card check” unionizing legislation is a “10, to us, this is a 25.

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