Vermont Congressman reflects on a ‘wild’ week in Washington
ST. ALBANS — As the threat of another government shutdown loomed on Thursday, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was busy dealing with an array of fast-changing events that will have varying degrees of impact in Vermont.
“It’s wild,” Welch said in a conversation with the St. Albans Messenger. As he was waiting for the Republicans to offer a plan to fund the government, he refelected on 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 that currently bar it.
Then there was the government shutdown. “My guess is it will be averted,” Welch on Thursday. He was correct. The Republicans in both the House and Senate later that day 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,” Welch said.
The debate over a continuing resolution and whether that resolution should keep the government running for two or three weeks was among three groups of Republican representatives and senators: the so-called Freedom Caucus, moderates and conservatives, Welch said — Democrats were excluded from the conversation.
“My view, very strongly, is that we should keep the lights on,” he said.
However, his position was that Democrats should oppose a continuing resolution unless it contains funding for fighting the opiate epidemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as an agreement that any cuts to non-military programs will be matched by cuts to the Pentagon budget.
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. Dynasaur.
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.
Unlike his immediate predecessor, 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,” Welch added.
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’d given the keys to the handcuffs to the Freedom Caucus, the most extreme elements of his caucus.”
Welch voted to table Green’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.
“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 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’s 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.
“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,” Welch said.
“We’ve really got to support Mueller (and) continue to let him pursue all the facts,” he said.
“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 Russians. 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,” Welch said.
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