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Welch Shares Stance in Windsor

  • Before heading in to a Windsor Rotary lunch, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., chats with the women who made the lunch at the Rachel Harlow Methodist Church in Windsor, Vt., on March 12, 2018. Welch was talking with Mary Kent, center, whose husband had a plumbing and heating business that did work at Welch's home in Hartland. Behind them are Barbara Loyer, left, Beth Gould, and Millie Blue, all from Windsor. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., speaks to members of the Windsor Rotary on March 12, 2018 at the Rachel Harlow Methodist Church in Windsor, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., talks with Jane Osgood and Ted Hilles after a Windsor Rotary lunch at the Rachel Harlow Methodist Church in Windsor, Vt., on March 12, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Windsor — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch lamented Washington’s partisan gridlock during a visit to the Upper Valley on Monday, where he blamed House Speaker Paul Ryan for delaying a floor vote on gun control measures supported by the majority of Americans.

“You’re entitled to know where I stand,” the Norwich Democrat said during remarks to about 20 Rotary Club of Windsor members having lunch at Rachel S. Harlow United Methodist Church.

“You’re entitled to know, ‘Peter, are you going to vote for or against an assault weapon restriction?’ ... I should be held accountable for that.”

Partisan divisions in Washington are leading to inaction or hasty decisions in many other areas, Vermont’s Democratic at-large representative said, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the imposition of tariffs on unfair trade.

For the record, Welch said, he supports several gun control measures that student advocates are demanding after last month’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., and an alleged plot recently defused in Fair Haven, Vt.

Welch said he favored universal background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines and a ban on bump stocks, and he believes they would pass if Congress could vote on them.

Polling suggests that an overwhelming majority of Americans — more than 80 percent — support background checks on all gun sales.

Beyond the most agreed-upon measures, he said, he would back a federal ban on so-called “assault weapons” — firearms designed for war, not necessarily for hunting or the gun range.

But Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, tends not to bring bills to a vote unless he can secure passage with support from his party alone — a policy that empowers the most radical legislators, Welch said, and makes the process “more and more narrow, more and more extreme.”

Welch made Washington’s dearth of bipartisanship the theme of his comments on Monday.

He contrasted the dysfunction along the Potomac with the “Vermont way” of doing things, and recalled how, when he won his first upset state Senate race, in 1980, leaders of the Republican-led Legislature put him on an influential committee, rather than sideline him.

“It’s not just about winning,” he said. “It’s about finding common ground so you can move forward.”

Welch said he still saw many areas for cooperation in spite of the divisive tone of the national conversation.

Take DACA, an Obama-era program that shields from deportation immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. President Donald Trump last year announced he would end the program, and Congress has missed his March 5 deadline to replace it.

“Everybody agrees they should stay here,” Welch said of the roughly 800,000 “Dreamers,” as the immigrants are known. “Why don’t we have a vote and make that happen?”

Those across the aisle saw the matter differently. Mike Donohue, spokesman for the Vermont GOP, said in an email on Monday that Welch’s “finger-pointing and blame-shifting ring hollow.”

Donohue noted that Welch in January voted, unsuccessfully, to extend a three-day government shutdown spurred by the parties’ inability to agree on DACA.

“Indeed, (Congressman) Welch was willing to block key bipartisan policy successes and shut the government down because he couldn’t get his way on a single, controversial, illegal immigration amnesty issue,” Donohue said.

Senate Democrats eventually agreed to a short-term funding bill in exchange for a promise from Republican legislative leaders to discuss DACA at a later date.

But Welch, along with U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, voted against that deal, which ultimately passed.

In an interview after the event, Welch also expressed openness to tariffs on Chinese goods, though he quibbled with Trump’s recent announcement of a broad-based tax on foreign steel and aluminum.

“He’s got a solid point,” Welch said of Trump’s arguments about unfair trade practices, which include allegations that the Chinese government subsidizes certain industries to give them an undue advantage internationally.

Welch over the past few years has backed Columbia Forest Products, a wood manufacturer with a manufacturing facility in Newport, Vt., in a U.S. International Trade Commission petition against Chinese imports.

In December, the panel voted to impose tariffs on Chinese hardwood and plywood, and Welch said that since then the Newport plant had added another shift.

But the Vermont congressman also criticized the way that Trump chose to implement his steel tariff, saying it “turns our allies into adversaries” by taxing them, too.

“We should be in favor of free trade,” Welch said, “as long as it’s fair trade.”

Welch, 70, will face a primary challenge in his race for a sixth term in office.

Daniel Freilich, a Brownsville, Vt., physician who works at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, and Ben Mitchell, a Westminster, Vt., resident who previously has run statewide on the Liberty Union ticket, have said they are running in the Democratic primary.

Earlier on Monday, Welch visited the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center in White River Junction, and the Windsor Artisans Park, where he toured SILO Distillery, Blake Hill Preserves and the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company Market.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.