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Welch: ‘Rule of law’ at stake in Senate trial of Trump

  • Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., listens to U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2020 4:28:06 PM
Modified: 1/25/2020 10:35:41 PM

WEST LEBANON — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is watching the Senate impeachment hearings with concern, saying the “rule of law” is at stake if Republicans in the chamber don’t take an impartial look at alleged wrongdoing by President Donald Trump.

“People don’t quite grasp onto the simplicity of the evil that Trump did, because it relates to the executive in the area of foreign policy, where there has traditionally been an immense amount of deference given to the president, and where a lot of folks don’t see it as their domain to make a judgment and in fact it is,” Welch said in a meeting Friday morning with editors and reporters at the Valley News.

Welch, a Norwich resident who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and voted in December to impeach Trump, criticized the president’s withholding of military aid to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in July, when Biden was the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Welch likened it to a governor giving a state police commissioner money in a budget only on the condition that police announce a criminal investigation into the governor’s opponent.

He also said he is concerned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has abandoned the independent responsibility, the institutional responsibility, that the Senate has under the Constitution, and is making himself an appendage of the White House.”

McConnell, the highest-ranking member of the chamber tasked with conducting the president’s trial, last month vowed “total coordination” with Trump’s legal team in the proceedings and has used the Republican’s majority to quash Democrats’ efforts to call witnesses or enter documents into evidence.

Welch, who previously practiced law in White River Junction, is equally concerned about the charge that Trump obstructed Congress in its investigation by blocking access to key witnesses and documents.

“This is not just a fight about who is going to win the next election. ... What is happening with the Senate right now is they are giving up the 240-year-plus tradition we’ve had of the separation of powers and the fundamental role that plays in preserving our democracy in good times and bad. That’s what at stake here — the rule of law and the separation of powers.”

The 72-year-old Welch, who was first elected to Congress in 2006, said impeachment has obscured the fact that the House has passed about 400 bills, with 275 of them enjoying “strong bipartisan” support, including a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and a measure to crack down on unwanted robocalls.

A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health care, Welch also championed another bill the House passed that would allow the federal government to negotiate prices on the most expensive and most utilized drugs covered by Medicare. But he also acknowledged that its passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is friendlier to the pharmaceutical industry, is in doubt.

Still, Welch said, Democrats have been getting important work done.

“We won the midterm elections largely by focusing on bread-and-butter issues, not talking about Trump, and our candidates were really focused on the cost of health care,” he said. “Prescription drugs is something that is just creating immense anxiety for employers and individuals.”

A former Senate president pro tempore in Montpelier who worked closely with colleagues across the aisle, Welch spoke earlier in the week to a class that former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas teaches at Middlebury College. He also described a trip to coal country in West Virginia, including traveling deep into a mine, at the invitation of a Republican colleague in Congress with whom he hopes to find common ground on some energy and environmental issues, including efficiency.

Welch has endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the Democratic presidential primary, noting that they have a “long history and a personal history,” dating back to their first successful runs for elective office some 40 years ago.

He said the “existential question” for all Democrats is who can beat Trump in November. And whoever that is, he said, will have to repair institutions Trump has sought to dismantle.

 “My observation right now, the race is r  eally narrowing, and it’s really coming down to Biden, representing restoration, and Bernie, representing revolution, which is the way he puts it — significant change. I don’t know how that’s going to turn out,” Welch said.

When asked his own political plans, Welch signaled that he will seek another term, though he stopped short of an announcement.

“I like my job,” Welch said. “As awful as the times are, I do like my job.”

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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