State News

In first week of new congress, Vermont delegation comes out swinging

By Jasper Craven, VTDigger

Perched on a podium on the U.S. Senate floor, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders suggested this week that Republican president-elect Donald Trump was a liar. Gesturing at a cardboard cutout of a Trump tweet in which the billionaire businessman promised not to cut federal health care programs, Sanders took aim.
“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me,” tweeted Donald J. Trump ‪@realDonaldTrump.
“This is what Donald Trump said, and he didn’t say it once in the middle of the night, he didn’t say it in an interview, this was a central part of his campaign,” Sanders roared. “This is what he asked millions of elderly people and working class people to vote for him on.”
After quoting various other Trump tweets promising to protect entitlement programs, Sanders asserted that “if all that he was talking about was campaign rhetoric, than what he is obliged to do now is tell the American people ‘I was lying.’”
The repeal of the Affordable Care Act is the first big order of business in the Republican-controlled Congress, and Sanders is already one of the left’s most vocal opponents against any cuts.
While Republicans have promised a repeal, they have not yet laid out a full replacement alternative. The repeal, however, could include billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid in states that have expanded access, like Vermont. It is also expected to repeal other healthcare subsidies and eliminate tax penalties for those who go without coverage, according to The New York Times.
The repeal is being steered as a budget resolution through the Senate Budget Committee to take advantage of arcane rules that make it impossible for the Democratic minority to filibuster the bill.
Sanders, the Democrat’s new ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, has relatively little power to stop a repeal, as Republicans can pass it easily along party lines.
But the Vermont independent, along with other Senate Democrats, are expected to offer a flurry of amendments to the repeal legislation that will slow down the process and be politically difficult for some Republicans to cast votes against, such as a hike in the minimum wage.
In addition, Sanders and his senior policy advisor Warren Gunnels are working to organize concurrent rallies across the country on Jan, 15 that will protest any potential rollbacks of federal health care programs.
At a health care news conference Wednesday, Jan. 4, Sanders looked directly into the C-SPAN camera for a moment, as if appealing to Trump directly.
“Right now, before Congress wastes an enormous amount of time, Donald Trump has got to come forward, maybe through a tweet, one of his tweets, and say clearly that Donald Trump will veto any legislation that cuts Medicare, that cuts Medicaid, or that cuts Social Security,” Sanders said.
The other two members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation are also pushing back against Trump’s impending presidency in various other ways.
Vermont’s senior senator, Patrick Leahy, introduced legislation Wednesday, Jan. 4, that would create a nonpartisan commission to investigate alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election.
Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency have concluded that the Russian government was involved in the hacking of political email accounts in an effort to help elect Trump president.
A declassified report issued by intelligence agencies on Friday, Jan. 6, said that Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign” to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.
Trump has cast doubt on Russian involvement and opposes a long term investigation.
“We need an accounting – a serious, independent, and bipartisan investigation of attempted Russian interference in the American presidential election,” Leahy said Wednesday. “This is larger than any one candidate or any one election. We must ensure our elections are protected from foreign influence.”
Leahy and his judiciary staffers are also poring over hundreds of past statements from Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions — whom Trump has nominated for attorney general — and formulating questions. Sessions will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 10.
In the House, Rep. Peter Welch led the charge on Thursday, Jan. 5, in introducing a resolution calling on Trump to divest all his business holdings or risk being in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The resolution invokes the obscure “emoluments clause” of the constitution, which declares that no office holder can accept any present or profit from a foreign state. Trump has business interests in at least 20 countries across the world, according to the New York Times.
Perhaps the most glaring example of Trump’s potential conflict of interest between his business and his presidency is his recently opened hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington.
The hotel is located at the Old Post Office, a federal landmark Trump leased from the General Services Administration. The GSA could now potentially rule Trump’s lease illegal, as the government agency bans elected officials from leasing the building.
Welch’s House resolution, along with counterpart legislation in the Senate, has garnered 60 Democratic co-sponsors, but not one Republican has come onboard. (Leahy’s Russian commission bill also has yet to attract any Republican supporters.)
Welch said Thursday that many Republicans had been rightly critical of Trump’s business dealings, as well as his demeanor, during the campaign, but that criticism has virtually ceased since Trump’s surprise win.
“It’s the silence of victory,” Welch said.
Welch said that Republicans still privately express reservations about Trump, but that he didn’t expect Republicans, who currently hold majorities in both the House and Senate, to make those concerns public anytime soon.
Welch, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, added that he wasn’t aware of any upcoming hearings regarding Trump.y
“On Jan. 20, Donald Trump will take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. At the appointed time, he will raise his right hand and swear to ‘Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ Welch said in a statement announcing his legislation. “This resolution will ensure that President Trump will follow through on the requirements of this solemn oath. The American people should have every confidence that actions taken by our new president are in the country’s best interest rather than his own.”

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