Here’s a hopeful sign that U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who suffered a mild stroke over the weekend, is on the mend: His wife, Katherine Van Hollen, pinch-hit for him Monday morning at a scheduled public appearance.
Other than confessing to being over-caffeinated, she was in good spirits.
The senator was due to speak at a fundraiser in Baltimore for the Maryland Health Care For All Coalition. He’s resting for the next few days after taking ill at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit on Saturday.
While Van Hollen was speaking at the summit late Saturday morning, he experienced some light-headedness and felt a pop in the back of his neck. But it wasn’t apparent to the members of the audience; they thought he was leaning into the podium for dramatic effect during a rousing partisan address. Only hours later, after a visit to George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., did doctors realize that Van Hollen had had a mild stroke.
But the 63-year-old senator is on the mend, his wife reported at the Maryland Health Care For All fundraiser.
“Chris is very unhappy and frustrated that he can’t be here in person,” Katherine Van Hollen said. Her husband, she said, was “eager” to get out of the hospital and return to work as quickly as possible, which is likely to happen later this week, according to his office.
She praised the health care coalition for “doing God’s work.”
Vincent DeMarco, president of the coalition, called Senator Van Hollen a great ally, dating back to his time in the General Assembly. He recalled working with Van Hollen on tobacco tax legislation in the late 1990’s over the objections of the powerful state Senate president, the late Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), who said a tobacco tax increase would happen “over my dead body.”
“I guess that’s what we’re going to have to do,” DeMarco recounted Van Hollen saying, as the crowd roared with laughter.
Katherine Van Hollen said that despite the difficulty of accomplishing anything substantive in Congress these days, her husband remains optimistic that lawmakers there will be able to craft a compromise to reduce the price of prescription drug prices.
“Few things are more important than access to quality, affordable health care,” she said.
Also speaking at the fundraiser Monday: Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D), state Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who just stepped down as chair of the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis, and state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who appeared via Zoom. The event raised about $30,000 for the health care advocacy group and attracted an “A list” of politicians, health care policy experts, union leaders, and philanthropists.
Van Hollen is the second Democratic senator to have a mild stroke this year. New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D) had a stroke in late January, and he returned to Capitol Hill in early March. But because the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, the absence of a single senator for even a few days can have a significant impact on the legislative agenda and confirmation votes for Biden administration nominees.
This week may not be as busy in the Senate as some recent weeks have been. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was scheduled to return with Republican colleagues from a trip to Ukraine on Monday night. And with President Biden scheduled to visit Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday, to comfort families of the victims of the racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is likely to go with him, further slowing the Senate’s business.
Coincidentally, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the frontrunner in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in the Keystone State, also disclosed that he had a mild stroke over the weekend. Whether that impacts his electoral fortunes remains to be seen.
DeMarco gave each of the speakers a homemade jar of spaghetti sauce, based on his mother’s recipe, “made with tomatoes, basil, salt and love.”
“This is going to cure Chris,” he told Katherine Van Hollen as he presented her with the gift.
“I hope there’s garlic in it, as a Greek-American,” she said.
“You can add the garlic,” DeMarco replied.