Local News

Rep. Peter Welch discusses the state of Congress

By Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger

As the threat of another government shutdown loomed on Thursday, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., spoke with the Messenger about what is transpiring in Washington.

“It’s wild,” Welch said, mentioning Jerusalem, impeachment and the House firearms vote, all of which had taken place the day before.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel, drawing rebukes from around the world. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, brought articles of impeachment to the House floor, and the House voted to override local gun laws and allow concealed carry of firearms in places which currently bar it.

Then there was the government shutdown. “My guess is it will be averted,” said Welch. He was correct. The Republicans in both the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution to keep the government operating until Dec. 22, with few Democratic votes.

The resolution, he said, was entirely in Republican hands, and they didn’t want a distraction from their tax bill, he suggested. “Everything they’re doing is trying to get their tax bill through by Christmas,” said Welch.

The debate over a continuing resolution and whether that resolution should keep the government running for two or three weeks was between the Freedom Caucus, Republican moderates and conservative Republicans, said Welch. Democrats were excluded from the conversation.

“My view, very strongly, is that we should keep the lights on,” said Welch.

However, his position is that unless a continuing resolution contains funding for the opiate epidemic, the Veteran’s Administration, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and an agreement that any cuts to non-military programs will be matched by cuts to the Pentagon budget, Democrats should oppose it.

The resolution as passed did not include funding for CHIP, which provides health insurance on a sliding scale to children whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but who do not have access to health insurance through their employer. In Vermont, the program is known as Dr. Dynosaur.

Congress allowed the program to expire in the fall, and across the country, states are starting to run out of money to pay for health care for children.

“Republicans only”

Unlike his predecessor, Rep. John Boehner, House Speaker Paul Ryan is not willing to build a coalition of Democrats and more moderate Republicans on issues such as the debt ceiling and the budget, explained Welch.

“What Ryan has done so far is make a commitment to his conference that he won’t work with Democrats,” said Welch. “And his conference is divided. It’s a dangerous situation, quite frankly.”

The Republicans negotiated both their health care repeal bills and the current tax proposals behind closed doors and without input from Democrats. The bills were, Welch said, “written in secret.”

He expressed concern the budget may take a similar path. “In any budget, there’s negotiations,” said Welch, who once led the Vermont Senate. “We simply have to get back to some compromise.”

As things stand, Welch said Ryan has “handcuffed himself and he’s given the keys to the handcuffs to the Freedom Caucus, the most extreme elements of his caucus.”

“I think President Trump has been divisive and destructive,” said Welch. “It’s dismaying to me how much chaos he’s created.”

Welch cited specifically Trump’s efforts at deregulation, his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, and his efforts to end the Affordable Care Act health insurance programs without a replacement.

“He’s been very divisive,” Welch repeated.

It was that divisiveness which Texas Democrat Al Green made the focus of his articles of impeachment. Previous impeachment articles have accused the president of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from his role as president, and alleged collusion with Russia. Green accused the president of dividing the country by promoting and expressing bigotry against a number of groups including blacks, Muslims, Puerto Ricans and people who are transgender.

Welch voted to table’s impeachment resolution, along with 363 other members of the House. Just 58 Democrats voted in favor of proceeding with the articles, with four voting “Present.”

“We’ve got to hold the president accountable,” said Welch, but he argued that the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the connections between Trump’s campaign and administration and Russia are the best means of doing that.

“The Mueller investigation is aggressive and it’s making progress,” said Welch. “We’ve really got to support Mueller.”

“There’s a lot of smoke there,” said Welch, noting that the president initially denied any contacts with Russia, but now evidence has shown considerable contact during both the campaign and the transition between members of Trump’s team and Russian operatives. Some of those Russians have been members of the government while others reportedly had close ties to it.

“In reality, the impeachment process is political,” said Welch. While the Constitution states a president and other federal officials may be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” that term has never been defined.

Before an impeachment can take place, “you’ve got to establish a foundation that has credibility with the American people and that requires investigation,” said Welch.

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