Van Hollen, Edwards talk Middle East

U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards (both D-Md.)
U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards (both D-Md.)

In separate telephone calls with reporters, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.), the leading contenders for Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s coveted seat, answered identical queries submitted by Washington Jewish Week and its sister publication Baltimore Jewish Times regarding the candidates’ stances on lobbying, Israel and the Iran nuclear deal.

Both candidates said they support foreign aid and intelligence sharing between the United States and Israel.

Edwards and Van Hollen, who have had dustups regarding their pro-Israel bonafides — Edwards over voting present on a resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against Gaza rocket attacks, and Van Hollen over criticizing Israeli actions impacting Lebanese civilians during the Second Lebanon War — declared themselves in favor of the United States continuing to take on a leadership role in brokering a two-state solution.

Edwards said the “alternative, I don’t think would result in security for Israel or a homeland for Palestinian people.”

She added: “[The] situation on the ground right now, frankly, is horrible.”

Noting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for renewed peace talks during his address at the United Nations, Edwards said, “We’ve invested an awful lot [in] making this happen. … It’s never too late to start talking again.”

Edwards and Van Hollen also backed the president on the Iran nuclear agreement.

“I am absolutely convinced this is a strong deal,” said Edwards, who called the agreement negotiated between six world powers and Iran a “landmark” piece of legislation that provides more security for the region and promotes United States interests.

Noting that she was one of the first members of Congress to support the president’s signature foreign policy legislation she said, “I feel good about where we are. I think it was an amazing feat of diplomacy … and one of leadership.”

Van Hollen took longer than his campaign rival, but did come out in support of the nuclear agreement.

“I believe this is the best path forward given the circumstances,” he said. Adding that he believes the deal reduces and restrains Iran’s capabilities and puts the United States and the world in a better position “without surrendering any options down the road.”

Area media outlets submitted questions for the candidates to moderator Andy Green of The Baltimore Sun. When Green asked Van Hollen if he would be amenable to reimposing sanctions on Iran, Van Hollen said he would vote to reinstate sanctions if Iran violated the agreement.

Edwards replied, “I don’t want to presume that Iran is going to disregard points of the agreement.”

The candidates’ support of the president’s initiatives are in part why both have been designated “On the Street” candidates by JStreetPAC, the political fundraising arm of the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace organization J Street. JStreetPAC is making no endorsement during the primary, but members can donate to either candidate through the PAC.

In light of that designation, Washington Jewish Week asked the two members of Congress what influence, if any, lobbying groups should have on foreign policy decisions.

“Lobbyists have a job of advocating for their perspective,” and members of Congress should do their best to listen to all sides and use their judgment, Van Hollen said.

Edwards asserted that “lobbying groups don’t influence” her foreign policy decision making. She said she takes in information from a variety of sources — “I read an awful lot on foreign policy” — and makes her own decision.

Van Hollen conceded that there are not “dramatic differences” between the two candidates. Edwards, who casts herself as a progressive outsider, said that the two are focused on the same goals.

“The difference has been defined by the support that I’m getting by the people we’ve worked with in all parts of the state of Maryland,” said Van Hollen.

Ike Leggett and Rushern L. Baker III, county executives for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, respectively, along with former gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur have endorsed Van Hollen’s candidacy.

Edwards has been endorsed by national organizations, like Emily’s List.

“What you’re seeing,” said Van Hollen, is a “hunger to get big things done and to make progress on some of the big challenges confronting the country,” including building an “economy that works for everyone,” criminal justice reform and combating climate change.

Edwards, who is touring the state courting the youth and senior votes, said “I decided to run to replace Mikulski because I believe I’m best able to build on her work and legacy.” Her vision is to help “working families, grow wages, grow businesses [to] compete around the world.”

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