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Rep. Chris Van Hollen is looking for a fresh start.
The Maryland Democrat, who spent the past two cycles appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is positioning himself as both a political and policy force in the new minority atop the Budget Committee.
“It seemed to be a good marriage of policy, but understanding that that policy discussion is taking place within a political environment,” Van Hollen said, noting that he was the unanimous pick of the Caucus for the slot. “From my perspective, this is a great place to be at this particular point in history.”
Van Hollen’s counterpart will be Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a founder of the GOP’s “Young Guns” program, who used his minority years on the committee to create a national profile on budget issues.
Van Hollen, who is widely seen as a future candidate for Speaker, put off trying to move up the elected leadership ladder last week amid a messy Caucus battle that ended with Pelosi creating a position for Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.).
Securing the ranking member slot on the Budget panel keeps him at the leadership table, which, given the dismal mid-term election results, was not guaranteed for him.
Van Hollen defended his role atop the party committee in one of the worst mid-terms for his party in generations.
Nov. 2 “was a horrible night politically speaking, and certainly there were different stages of political grief,” Van Hollen said of losing at least 61 seats. But he argued that there was little House Democrats could have done differently to change the outcome, given a tough electoral map that had scores of Democrats sitting in Republican-leaning seats, a sluggish economy and a flood of third-party money aiding the GOP.
“We can all engage in Monday morning quarterbacking as to what might have been done differently, but I think if you look at the results, it would be hard to say when you are at 9.6 percent unemployment on top of that political playing field, and $70 million of outside money, that you would have seen a dramatic difference in the outcome,” Van Hollen said.
He reiterated that sentiment to the entire Caucus on Friday, sending a detailed memo outlining his explanation for the electoral outcome and how the Caucus can move forward.
“Republicans are already making the mistake of thinking that the election was about them, rather than a referendum on the economy,” Van Hollen wrote. “We have an opportunity to make the Republican Majority the shortest in history.”