U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen Joined MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss tensions with North Korea and his bipartisan North Korea sanctions legislation, the BRINK Act. Below is a transcript of the interview, and the video is available here.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC: Joining us now from Washington, a member of the Senate Appropriations and Banking Committees, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Senator, good to see you. Let's pick up right where we just left off, talking about North Korea, the President's rhetoric. And not just the President, by the way. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaking in strong terms about what could happen to North Korea if it continues in the direction of the pursuit of nuclear weapons. What's your reaction just to the dialogue of the last 24-48 hours?
U.S. SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): I think the overheated rhetoric and statements from President Trump have aggravated the situation. They play into the hands of the North Korean leader. This is Kim Jong Un’s game, as your guest just said. This is something the North Koreans have done for 15 years. And when President Trump engages in the same kind of rhetoric, he actually elevates the North Korean leader and diminishes the United States.
So we should focus on diplomacy, backed up by very strong economic sanctions. One thing on the sanctions – we have had them in place for a long time, but they have not been adequately enforced. And the Chinese, especially, have looked the other way while Chinese banks and firms have dealt with North Korea.
So Senator Toomey and I have introduced bipartisan legislation, modeled after the Iran sanctions legislation, that would really ratchet up the pressure.
SAM STEIN, MSNBC: Senator, Sam Stein here. This obviously does fall in the purview of the executive. But there are some legislative vehicles that Congress can consider. You talked about one with respect to sanctions. I know Senator Markey has a bill that would essentially prohibit first strike unless an act of Congress came before that.
What do you expect lawmakers to do once they get off of August recess, come back and let's say this North Korea issue is still lingering? Are there going to be hearings? Are you going to get momentum behind one of these bills? How will your chamber respond?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I'm absolutely confident we will have hearings in the Banking Committee. There will probably be hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I expect us to take up legislation.
Congress did pass some Korea sanctions legislation as part of the Russia sanctions and the sanctions on Iran. But many of us believe we need to go much further in terms of the Iran sanctions model.
Back then, we remember, the U.N. passed sanctions on Iran. They didn't really bite. They didn't really have any teeth until the United States passed what are called secondary sanctions, where we say to countries like China or others, you have a choice. Either you do business with North Korea, or you do business with the United States. But you can't do both. So that is what got people's attention with the Iran sanctions. That's what we need to do now.
MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC: Senator, you mentioned, with regard to North Korea, the need for China to play a larger role in helping to get us to some form of negotiation. And despite the great piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago, it appears the Chinese are not playing the role that we want them to play. And it raises the question in some circles, a legitimate question. People we rely on, countries we rely on throughout the world – Pakistan, supposedly our ally. Not really. Saudi Arabia, supposedly our ally. Not really.
What is going on with the role of the United States and the world? I realize it's a big question. But what is going on here?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think you're right. I think our influence is being diminished. We have seen the Pew polls from overseas that show that people's sense of the U.S. leadership is at an all-time low. And that makes it hard to translate our policies into successful influence overseas.
So I think when it comes to North Korea, it's really important that we dial back the rhetoric, that we reach out to our allies. China was, at first, the best bud of the president. As you mentioned, he met at Mar-a-Lago. He tweeted out, best buds. Then weeks later, he said he was very disappointed in China.
The only answer here is steady, firm leadership. And we do need to ratchet up the pressure through the secondary sanctions. I do think that lots of Chinese banks and firms are continuing to deal with North Korea. We need to put an end to that through these sanctions.
GEIST: All right. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democratic of Maryland. Senator, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.