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Congressional Corner With Peter Welch

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch

Despite everything, we still have a big election coming up.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Vermont Representative Peter Welch wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This conversation was recorded on March 24.

Here we are with Peter Welch, who’s the only Congressman from the entire state of Vermont. He's been a regular correspondent before these microphones, telling us what's going on. And we just love having you, Peter, and thank you so much for doing it. Now. Let me get …

Thank you.

You're welcome, sir. How will we know, and a lot of people writing me about this, that this election is going to be secure? A lot of people are saying that this president is going to take advantage of the coronavirus and either call off the election, or interfere in the electoral process in the beginning I just…

And that's a worry.


No, that's a valid concern. We've got to make certain a that we have the election and be that people have the opportunity to vote and I think in the house package we're putting together, we have protections for voting and making voting easier to do. And I think bottom line, anybody who wants to be able to vote by mail should be able to do that. We should set those systems up and fund them in order that we can count on no matter what our situation is in November when the election is called. But we've got to make, I think, a bipartisan commitment that everybody's right to vote will not only be protected, but it will be facilitated.

You said it'd be making it easier. You mentioned voting by mail. Could you explain to all of us what would have to happen to get the states to adopt that? It's these are state decisions, right?

They are state decisions, but the federal government has a lot of authority over what the federal elections are, not the state elections. So I believe that we would have significant authority when it came to the congressional and the presidential race. And we should exercise that authority in a neutral way because the goal of the election is to serve the decision of the voters. And in order to make the voters have that opportunity to decide you got to make sure that no matter what they can get access to the polls. And there's no reason, you know, if there's some issue about the polls being open, there's no reason people can't mail their vote in. And I'd like to see us guarantee that as an option for anyone who wants to do that.

You don't really think do you, Peter, that the Republicans in the United States Senate, who are always against expanding the franchise, are gonna go for this?

Well, I'm alarmed by them, because their approach has been to support voter suppression efforts, and to resist voter access issues. And what's a dead end about that is first of all, the most fundamental right we have as citizens is the right to vote. And, you know, we've denied that to our detriment for years and years. To African Americans in the South, the Jim Crow laws, the poll tax. And we've had a history here of trying to expand voting rights to include women, to include people who didn't have the requisite amount of property that was required at the founding of our country. And who have passed the Voting Rights Act to finally undo 100 years of Jim Crow after the Civil War. So everything that we are doing, to try to achieve the aspirations in our Constitution that all men and women are created equal, depends on giving everybody the right to vote, protecting that right, encouraging people to vote. And it's up to the voters to decide. It shouldn't be the Democrats or Republicans trying to scheme about who gets a vote and how you can make it easier for the people that favor you and harder for the people that favor the other side. So, you know, it's dispiriting to me when I see people in politics, essentially, supporting efforts to thwart, inhibit, restrict voting. But it's happening. And my goal, and a lot of us, including some of my Republican colleagues are gonna continue to fight to make certain that everybody has that access to the vote.

Peter, you are in that group, which is involved in the Democratic messaging and campaigning for the House. And so I guess I need a pundit some punditry or some predictions. How likely are the Democrats to hold the House in 2020? In other words, have things changed since the Democrats did so well, in the last election?

I think we're gonna hold the House, and I think we're going to pick up seats. I do. There’s two reasons. First of all, this election is going to be a referendum on Donald Trump, no matter what. That's fundamentally what it's going to be about. And we've won; many of my colleagues from Trump districts won. And they won because they were talking about bread and butter issues that affect everyday people. And they've got temperaments that are, I think in line with who they represent. They, they're not grandiose; they’re practical. They want to solve problems. And they are not that, you know that the Trump tweets and his vitriol is appealing to some folks. But you know, it's just, we're kind of getting fed up with it. And I think people want competence in government. They want calmness and rationality. And that goes for people, whether they're conservative or liberal. And I think a lot of those candidates from those Trump districts establish a really solid relationship with the voters because they've demonstrated real respect for them. So I think we're going to do good in the House.

You know, there are an awful lot of people in this country who have not moved off the dime when it comes to supporting Trump. You know, 40% or so of the American people no matter what he does, no matter what he says no matter how disgracefully he behaves, they all say, “OK, well, you know, he's our guy.” How does that change?

Not sure it does, but I think our job is to show that we're committed to making government work for everyday people. And you know if we are seeing anything about the coronavirus, it is the need to have an effective and responsive government. Effective and responsive first to address the public health crisis. You know that you do need good guidelines from an empowered Center for Disease Control. It would have been much better had we had that office to address a pandemic planning in place, rather than abolished, and then you do need a strong federal government to come up with an aid package that's going to help revitalize and renew the economy. And the sort of Trump agenda is you don't need anything; you just need one guy making his pronouncements and tweets, and that's it, and a good deal of disrespect for institutions and the necessity of preparation. And, you know, a good indication of that is how we abolished that office and how his budget proposes to cut the Center for Disease Control by 16%. I mean, that just doesn't make any sense. So Republican or Democrat, that doesn't make any sense. And I think we just got to be out there showing that our advocacy is about trying to make government work for you and me, as opposed to just tearing into Trump.

So what has changed since the last election? We have a president who got elected by an awful lot of people say, “we don't like these insiders. We don't like what's going on. We want an outsider.” Has that changed?

I think it has changed, it’s changing now, I think. Here's what I think is two things. Number one, Trump, I want to give him some credit. He was able to connect emotionally, I think and politically, with a lot of folks who were fed up, and they were people who had traditionally voted Democratic but didn't feel that Democrats were taking care of their economic interest and legitimate concerns. That's how we lost some of those Midwestern states. And they didn't like Hillary. Now, here's what's changed. Trump made all the promises, but he hasn't delivered. I mean, this is not going well for most of the folks in the heartland. These Trump tariffs have been devastating to farmers. And they've actually hurt a lot of manufacturers. And even before this collapse in the market from the coronavirus we were starting to suffer manufacturing decline. And the big brag by Trump was that he was going to bring all these jobs back to America. So on measure after measure after measure, on boast by Trump, and by boast by Trump by boast by Trump, they've all failed. He's blown it. And he's not had an action plan that follows his rhetoric. And I think we can point that out. I mean, where's the beef, you know, with Donald Trump. So he's been all talk in has not produced the things that he's promised for everyday Americans. And that's fair game in a debate with him. And I'm sure that if it's Vice President Biden, he's gonna make it.

I love talking to Peter Welch. He's our friend. He's been with us so many times on the Congressional Corner. Peter, thank you so much for all you're doing and for your outspokenness. You know, there are other people who give you namby-pamby, but you're always say what you think and I really appreciate it.

Well, thank you, Alan. Likewise.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.