Welch bemoans gridlock, urges local action
MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Congressman Peter Welch on Monday in Middlebury urged Vermonters to uphold the tenets of democracy and community service in face of a White House and U.S. Senate that he believes have collectively abandoned such values.
Welch discussed congressional gridlock, the U.S. House agenda and his continued support for the impeachment of President Donald Trump during an Addison Independent-sponsored appearance at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society.
During his remarks and a Q&A session, Vermont’s lone U.S. representative voiced frustration with legislative inaction, Trump’s frequent tweets and a U.S. Senate that he said is more intent on confirming conservative judges and ensuring the president a second term, rather than processing bills aimed at improving the lives of Americans.
“We’re in very serious times. What’s going on in Washington now is very serious and very dire,” he said. “What is in contention is the guardrails of Democracy.”
Vermonters elected Peter Welch, a Windsor County Democrat, to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. He has been re-elected by massive margins in subsequent elections. Welch currently serves on the House Committees on Energy & Commerce, and Oversight & Reform. He’s also a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
He said the tenor of debate in the nation’s capital is unlike anything he’s seen before.
“We had serious disagreements, but it was about issues that affected the livelihood and wellbeing of citizens,” Welch said. “With this new president, what’s in doubt is our respect for the courts and their independence; what’s in doubt is our bedrock commitment that people are equal and entitled to be treated with respect, regardless of their religion, regardless of their country of origin, regardless of their ethnicity.”
This pattern, according to Welch, was established during the Trump presidential campaign.
“And it’s continued since then,” he charged, “with an assertion that journalism — which is something that’s absolutely critical for a lively democracy — is all fake news. Where there’s an assertion that judges who decided against the administration did so because they’re ‘pro-Mexican.’ It is us completely ignoring the responsibility we have to try to create partnerships with other countries to work with us to assist in security issues and climate change.”
Welch reiterated his support for impeachment of a president whom he said leads by tweeting.
“The issue of impeachment is obviously a huge question in a democratic society because it’s very risky and dangerous — and there can be collateral consequences — when there is a legislative removal of a person from office who’s been elected by the people,” he said. “A bedrock principal in our government is to respect the outcome of an election.”
That said, Welch noted the framers of the U.S. Constitution did provide for the removal of a president or other elected officials for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Welch called impeachment an “action that should be made with great reservation, but not ruled out categorically when the Constitution says that’s what should be done.”
Welch, a lawyer, said he had always been concerned about the obstruction of justice allegations against Trump that were part of the Mueller investigation.
Welch said the report from the probe into alleged Trump campaign cooperation with Russian sources in an effort to turn the 2016 election to Trump’s favor included “at least 10 examples of obstruction on the part of the Trump administration, the president and his associates on trying to interfere with the Mueller investigation.”
Welch added he’s become increasingly disturbed that Trump has exhibited “no respect for the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers in equal branches of government.
“What we’ve seen from the Trump administration in a way that’s unprecedented is there’s always been tension between the executive branch and the legislative branch on oversight. There’s a complete and absolute rejection of any responsibility to provide Congress with the documents and witnesses it needs to do oversight.”
Also of concern to Welch has been what he called a “doubling down” of “racist, white nationalist remarks.” The president’s comportment in that regard, according to Welch, has caused pain among Americans who he said feel vilified on the basis of how they worship, their race and ethnicity.
He encouraged Americans to persevere in improving their lot at the local level at a time when gridlock is the norm in Washington, D.C.
“People are embracing the importance of doing what they can locally,” he said. “They know that they’ve got to build community from the ground up, from where they are. They are doing what they can to reinforce the absolute essential personal qualities of mutual respect, consideration and commitment, along with doing what they can with local institutions. The solid work that’s being done right now is in local communities, our state Legislature. That good work, in my opinion, is going to get us through what is a really dark time in Washington.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. House will continue to work on bills designed to address everyday Americans’ problems, according to Welch, who said he hopes that work will pay off after the 2020 elections.
“My view is that everything we can do legislatively in the House that addresses concerns of everyday people becomes a platform for us after the next election in hopes that we’re then able to then move forward on it,” he said. “I think we’ve got to show people we are about legislating: The Violence Against Women Act. Bringing down the cost of prescription drugs. Climate issues. The Paris Accords.
“We’ve got to keep at it,” Welch concluded. “This is a tough time, but I value the opportunity to be your representative in Washington, trying to do what I can every day to bring Vermont values to Washington.”