July 22, 2020

Van Hollen Discusses Trump Threat to Send Federal Forces to Baltimore, Legislation to Block It

The President “has decided to abuse his power by deploying secret federal police to American cities against the will of local leaders to deny people their Constitutional rights”

Last night, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) discussed the recent deployment of unidentified federal police to American cities, as well as President Trump’s threat to bring these shadowy paramilitary forces to Baltimore. Senator Van Hollen announced legislation this week that would largely block President Trump from deploying these federal forces against Americans. Video of the interview is available here, and the transcript of the interview is available below. 

ALI VELSHI (MSNBC): Senator, the point I was just making to our viewers is that this is like secret police. This is the kind of thing that does not happen in democracies. It is the absence of accountability by federal agents.

U.S. SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): Well, that's exactly right. That's exactly why Senator Merkley, and Wyden, and I, and others introduced this bill, and we never expected to have to do this in the United States of America. But here we have a President who seems to envy dictators – like Putin, like Erdogan, like President Xi in China – and has decided to abuse his power by deploying secret federal police to American cities against the will of local leaders to deny people their Constitutional rights. And so our legislation would prevent this President and any other future president from doing that.

VELSHI: What's the broader issue here? Because when you say we've never had to do this in the United States, you know, I've never had to wear a gas mask while covering stories in the United States or a hardened helmet. There is something here that is happening, and Donald Trump seems to be relishing it. This is the law-and-order President. This is the tough-on-people President. He's calling it tough on crime, but our pictures of Portland indicate mostly peaceful protests.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's exactly right, Ali. In fact, you saw mothers arm-in-arm trying to protect the peaceful protesters from federal agents, right? What's wrong with that picture? Look, we have a President who for political reasons has decided that somehow sending the secret police in to escalate the situation and to increase the chance of violence serves his interests. It makes him somehow look like the law-and-order President, when, in fact, what he's doing is violating people's Constitutional rights – violating parts of the law. And the reason we introduced this legislation was to make it absolutely clear that this is a line that cannot be crossed by this President. 

I just got off the phone this evening with the Mayor of Baltimore – because Baltimore was on the list of cities that President Trump had mentioned –  and the Mayor of Baltimore said, look, we're happy to have more federal resources for housing, for transportation, education, but don't send us Donald Trump’s secret police to escalate the situation in Baltimore. Local law enforcement is doing its job and – we don't need any outside police sent by Donald Trump.

VELSHI: Right, and part of local law enforcement doing their job in this country involves protecting people's right to protest. Last night, we had a former Navy vet who was on – he was in Portland and he went up to talk to these agents, these so-called agents to ask them what they were doing, and they beat him. They apparently broke his arm. They beat him. We have the video – he wasn't protesting, he wasn't doing anything – he went to talk to them. But even if he were protesting, that is the basis of what we're allowed to do in this country. To some degree, what the Administration is doing – and this is going to be the video of the guy in a minute – what this Administration is doing is in violation of laws that already exist in America, notwithstanding the law that you're trying to bring into place. 

VAN HOLLEN: Oh, there's no doubt that the President is using these federal forces to violate people’s Constitutional rights. As you just said, that was a graduate of the Naval Academy, a Navy veteran, simply there to exercise his First Amendment rights, and they broke his wrist. There was another scene where another individual was essentially shot between the eyes with a high-impact projectile – seriously injured. 

This is not the United States of America. This is maybe the streets of some authoritarian regime. And yet Donald Trump has sort of taken it upon himself to abuse his power in this way for purely political purposes. I think he’s got it totally wrong. I don’t think the American people will tolerate that, and that's why we're pushing for this bill.

VELSHI: Senator, good to see you as always. Thank you for joining us.