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GOP candidate Weld talks Trump at Hartford forum sponsored by Valley News, VtDigger

  • Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld, left, and reflected at right, greets patrons at the Four Aces Diner in West Lebanon, N.H., while on a day trip to the Upper Valley on Saturday, May 11, 2019. Weld visited two other area diners, took part in a forum sponsored by Vermont Digger and the Valley News and met with Vermont governor Phil Scott. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld speaks about his positions on topics from ranging from abortion to President Donald Trump at forum sponsored by Vermont Digger and the Valley News in the Hartford High school gym in White River Junction, Vt., on Saturday, May 11, 2019. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott takes notes while former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Bill Weld explains his views about gun control at a forum in White River Junction on Saturday, May 11, 2019. Scott was criticized by his base for supporting gun control measures. (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld answers a question during a forum sponsored by Vermont Digger and the Valley News in the Hartford High school gym in White River Junction, Vt., on Saturday, May 11, 2019. At left is John P. Gregg, the Valley News political columnist. (Rick Russell photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/11/2019 10:18:15 PM
Modified: 5/12/2019 8:36:23 AM

Near the end of his first visit to the Upper Valley as a 2020 candidate for president on Saturday, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld estimated that he’d shaken the hands of some 240 people at three diners in Lebanon earlier in the day.

“I didn’t meet a single person who didn’t express disdain and dismay about Donald Trump,” Weld recalled during a midafternoon forum at Hartford High School on Saturday.

The 73-year-old is counting on enough like-minded Republicans to show up for next winter’s New Hampshire primary to boost his challenge to the incumbent president.

And just in case the anti-Trump voters aren’t enough, Weld has been highlighting his own credentials as a hard-line federal prosecutor and a two-term, tax-slashing governor of Massachusetts; his libertarian stance on gun ownership; and his current policy positions including support for LGBTQ Americans and welcoming instead of demonizing immigrants.

All those issues came up at the forum on Saturday, which the Valley News co-sponsored with news website VtDigger and which Valley News News Editor John Gregg hosted. Gregg worked for Weld as his chief speechwriter when Weld was governor.

More than 100 forum attendees, a mix of New Hampshire and Vermont residents, seemed mostly open to Weld’s candidacy — even Democrats such as Strafford resident John Freitag.

“I like that he’s a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, which I think a lot of Vermonters are,” Freitag said after the forum. “And I like people who are willing to be forthright in their opinions, even ones I might disagree with. ... He represents the best of the Republican Party — those who are committed to the Constitution and our republic.”

Vermont’s current Republican governor, who has often disagreed, politely, with many of Trump’s policies and with much of the president’s combative style, also listened with interest.

“It’s way too early to be endorsing anyone,” Phil Scott said. “I’m just taking advantage of the opportunity to get to know the candidates. I hadn’t met (Weld) before, and I was curious. He’s definitely open, forthright and honest, and doesn’t lack for an opinion.”

Among those opinions, Weld said he remains opposed to raising the federal minimum wage, even though his six gubernatorial vetoes of raising the Massachusetts minimum probably cost him his 1996 challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Instead, Weld said, he prefers to let each state set its own rate based on economic circumstances, provided they’re more realistic than New Hampshire — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu recently vetoed a boost from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

“Seven dollars sounds a little low,” Weld said. “Sorry, Chris.”

Among the few high marks that Weld gave Trump were his nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the two most recent openings on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“They were pretty damn good,” Weld said. “As a senator, I would have voted for both of them.”

As for most of Trump’s policies, however, Weld described the majority of Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate as “exhibiting symptoms of Stockholm syndrome” for hitching their political wagons to Trump out of fear. He also didn’t let Democrats off the hook, noting that “the parties in D.C. need each other.”

“They’re locked in a death-spiral embrace,” each pointing to the other as the reason to vote for their side, he said.

Weld is one of hundreds of former federal prosecutors to sign a recent letter saying that if he weren’t president, Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice based on the findings in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s recent report on the Russia investigation.

“Having a president ignore Article One of the Constitution (enumerating the separation of powers among the three branches of government) is as close as you can get to totally ignoring your duties as president of the United States,” Weld said.

Weld also criticized the Trump administration for its energy policies, from pulling out of the Paris climate accords to supporting expansion of the fossil-fuel industries, particularly coal. And while he supports all forms of renewable energy, Weld said he thinks the United States won’t be able to quit its addiction to fossil fuels unless nuclear energy is part of the equation. Finding ways to contain the waste from nuclear plants, he said, “is an easier problem to address than CO2 going up into the air.”

On immigration, Weld said the U.S. needs a guest-worker program along the lines of Canada’s, particularly to help the agricultural and construction sectors of the economy meet their labor needs. He expressed particular contempt for Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the entirety of the border with Mexico, and stoking the economic anxieties and xenophobia of American workers.

“I don’t like the overtones of all that,” Weld said. “Donald Trump, very cynically, set out to scare people, to say that we were under assault from people of other countries. ... It’s not what a president is supposed to do.”

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

Full video by CATV 8/10.

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