Welch discusses Washington politics, encourages local action

By BENJY RENTON

BENJY RENTON
Representative Peter Welch was 30 minutes late to the forum, citing road construction for the delay. Moderators stalled in his absence with a discussion of school consolidation and the Bridge and Rail Project.

Speaking to a crowd of around 40 people at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury, Representative Peter Welch (D) stressed that politics in Washington have reached a boiling point.

“What’s going on in Washington now is very serious and very dire,” he said. “What’s in contention are the guardrails of democracy.”

Welch was invited to Middlebury last Monday, Sept. 16 for a community forum hosted by the Addison Independent and moderated by the Addison Independent’s Angelo Lynn and The Middlebury Campus’ managing editor, James Finn ’20.5. In an editorial published in the Addison Independent before the forum, Lynn urged readers to bring questions, asking in particular for high school and college students to attend “not only to be part of the discussion, but to understand how fortunate we are in Vermont to be so closely connected to our congressional delegation.”

A major figure in Vermont politics for over three decades, Welch was first elected to the Vermont Senate from Windsor County in 1981. He then served as president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate from 1958–1989 and 2003–2007 before being elected to the United States Congress as Vermont’s only representative. Together, Welch, Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D) form Vermont’s congressional delegation.

Welch began the forum with a short speech describing his observations in Washington, and said that respect for the courts and judicial independence are under threat. 

“What’s in doubt is the bedrock that people are equal and are entitled to respect because of their religion, country of origin or ethnicity,” he said. “Those are being challenged constantly.”

BENJY RENTON
Welch’s 20 minute speech was followed by an hour long Q&A session, during which residents, including Jean Terwilliger, could voice questions and concerns.

Welch also acknowledged the abnormality of the Trump administration.

“In politics you have the rough and tumble of the election, but when the election is over you go from competition to cooperation,” he said. Despite politics in Washington, Welch said that throughout his trips around Vermont he has seen an impressive amount of local political activity. “The good news is that people are embracing the importance of doing what they can locally. They know that they’ve got to build community from the ground up, from where they are,” Welch said. 

The first question came from Lynn, who asked about Welch’s views on the impeachment of President Trump. In July, Welch was the first member from Vermont’s congressional delegation to call for impeachment.

“I’ve become increasingly disturbed that the President does not have any respect for the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers,” he said. “There has to be some cooperation on behalf of the administration to provide documents, witnesses, answers to questions.” However, Welch noted that impeachment is “by no means a substitute for doing legislative work.” 

This week, as House Democrats have begun a formal impeachment inquiry of President Trump, Welch publically applauded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision. “President Trump willfully put his own political interests above the national security interests of the American people,” Welch tweeted on Tuesday.

Finn asked the congressman about the likelihood of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh being impeached.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Welch said. “Kavanaugh went through this and in a very partisan vote he was confirmed, much to my disappointment … I’d be very surprised to see there be in the McConnell Senate a resurrecting of that reviewing.”

Welch touched on partisanship and said that lawmakers must have a much more engaged policy to help rural America.

“We have to pay attention to rural America much more,” he said.  “It’s in our DNA.”

Lynn queried Welch about today’s media landscape, asking why some news gets buried in the digital age and why some does not, in addition to the closure of several local newspapers across Vermont.

“Social media is such a powerful tool that it was used by the Russians against us in our election,” Welch said. “That’s a huge challenge for democracy.”

Jean Terwilliger, a Cornwall resident, wrapped up the event’s question-and-answer session. “What is the most effective thing that we as citizens can do to impact what’s happening in Washington?” she asked. 

In addition to contacting representatives and senators, Welch said that persevering on a local level is paramount to making progress despite Congressional gridlock.

“There are things out there to do to make a difference and remind you of what’s important,” he said. “I believe that doing things locally is now more important than ever.”

BENJY RENTON
Editor in Chief of the Addison Independent, Angelo Lynn (above), c0-moderated the forum with Campus Managing Editor James Finn ’20.5.