As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, is charged with one vital overarching task: to ensure that the gains made by Democrats in 2006 grow further in 2008. As part of the job, he occasionally has to get his hands dirty, which is why, this Sunday morning, he will be squaring off against President Bush's former strategist Karl Rove on Fox News Sunday. Rest assured, Van Hollen told the Huffington Post, he's ready to take on Bush's brain. And he's confident that the Democrats have a plan in place to increase their congressional majorities.
Huffington Post: What's the lay of the land right now? How are the Democrats looking in regard to 2008 and what are some of the worries you have going forward?
Rep. Van Hollen: Things are shaping up very well. You see a wave of Republican retirements in the House and the Senate. Some high-profile figures are not even waiting till the end of their terms to leave. That's a clear indication that these Republican members see a light at the end of the tunnel. You also see it in our strong fundraising. The DCCC has opened up a wide lead over its counterpart. And you see it in general enthusiasm in the 2008 presidential election where Democrats seem excited and the Republicans seem to be grumbling about their candidates
What are your concerns?
The biggest concern is that complacency can set in, the sense of irrational exuberance. Because from our perspective it is very important, in all the excitement of the presidential election, that we do not lose site of the congressional races.
There have been stories recently alleging that fewer voters are paying attention to Iraq, suggesting that the war won't be as big an issue in 2008 as it was in 2006. Do you agree with this, and how do you think it affects the Democrats' chances?
I believe voters continue to care deeply about the mess in Iraq and have, as one of their highest priorities, bringing our troops safely home...While people are all pleased that there has been a tampering down of violence in Iraq, most understand that you send the wrong signal if you suggest you are going to be there indefinitely.
Obviously we are all pleased when there is any kind of reduction of violence. However, measured by what the objective was, we have not exceeded in the surge and I think the American people understand this.... I do think it is going to be a very important issue going forward.
You are slated to appear opposite Karl Rove on Fox News on Sunday. What are your thoughts about his statement on Charlie Rose last week that was the Congress, not President Bush who was pushing for the Iraq War resolution in 2002?
It's preposterous and it goes to show that some of these guys will say anything to escape accountability for bad decisions.
Are you concerned that Mr. Rove might, how do we say this, take liberties with the truth when you face off with him on Sunday?
[Pause and a slight giggle] It's important to stick with the facts and I think all of us will try to make sure people are held accountable.
I'd like to get your thoughts on Scott McClellan's book, "What Happened", and the revelation that high-ranking White House officials deliberately misled the country about their involvement in the Valerie Plame affair. How should the Democrats go about holding the Bush administration accountable for this?
Henry Waxman and the Government Oversight and Reform Committee have been holding hearings on that issue. We had Valerie Plame come in and testify. I do believe that this book will provide fresh evidence that there was a deliberate effort at high levels of the White House to cover it up and that will mean we take another look at that issue.
Would you like to see this matter investigated even if it extends into the next administration?
I think it is something important to get to the bottom of... What we learned and what this book will report is that at the highest level of the White House there was an effort to cover up their role in leaking [Valerie Plame's] name.
Finally, predictions. How many seats are the Democrats going to gain or dare we suggest, lose in 2008?
I'm sure you're not surprised but we do not have a number. Our objective is to gain as many seats as we can. Oftentimes after you have a big wave election like we just did [in 2006] where the Democrats picked up 30 seats, there is often some receding of the wave. So the challenge is to beat history in this election.
Is there a potential Republican presidential candidate that concerns you in his ability to bring voters to the polls in 2008?
At this point in time I'm not really concerned about one Republican candidate affecting the congressional elections.