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Vermont Rep. Welch discusses bid to replace Leahy in Senate

Congressman Peter Welch (left) and Senator Patrick Leahy at GlobalFoundries celebration
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Congressman Peter Welch (left) wants to replace Senator Patrick Leahy.

Longtime Vermont Congressman Peter Welch is hoping to become Senator Peter Welch. The at-large Democrat began a bid Monday to replace Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who is retiring next year after eight terms. Welch, who has been in Congress since 2007, is also a former state Senate leader. Welch spoke with WAMC Monday morning.

There was a lot of speculation about Senator Leahy's decision to eventually retire from the Senate. When did you decide to run?

Well, obviously, after that. I was one who was hoping that Senator Leahy would stay because he does such good things for Vermont. But I had to make a decision. And I'll tell you why I'm running for the U.S. Senate. We are at such a critical moment in our country and in our democracy. And the questions we face, are we going to continue to combat climate change? Are we going to fight for reproductive rights and racial justice? And are we going to stand up for working families who are struggling to pay their bills? And fundamental, are we going to protect our democracy?

You know, I was in the building, in the capitol, on January 6, when the mob attacked, when the shot was fired. And as horrible as that was, what was worse was that 147 of my colleagues voted to overturn the decision of the American people to elect Joe Biden, and that threat continues. But I saw that if we come together, and we're persistent, we can actually get things done. The COVID relief bill, the infrastructure bill, we’re in Vermont, that's $100 million to help us get broadband on every dirt road, every farm, and back hollow home in the entire state. So we can work together to actually get things done.

The House and Senate are two different beasts. What from your time in the House prepares you to move to the upper chamber?

Well, you know, what works in Washington is what works in life. You really focuse on the problems, you find common ground, you build coalitions, and you don't worry about who gets credit and you get the job done. And that is true in the House. It's true in the Senate. It's true where you work. It's true in your family. And that's what I've done it’s why I've been affective. And I'm hoping that I can bring that approach to the U.S. Senate and help Vermont.

Did Senator Leahy encourage you to run once he announced his retirement?

He did not. This is a decision I had to make. Patrick and I have worked together literally his entire career. And he's a revered figure here in Vermont. But I have to make my own decision. And I did.

You'll be running, presumably, in a primary field to win the right to be nominated for the Senate. What do you see as the top issues facing Vermont that you'd like to talk about to voters,

The top issues for Vermont are getting our economy working for everyday people, facing climate change, bringing down the cost of health care, addressing the incredible crisis in affordable housing. These are things that are affecting working families, and you know, it's families, whether they are ones that voted for Trump or they voted for Biden, my approach on things is that government should be helping folks to do the things that allow them to be successful in their lives. And that's what is a reason why I think Build Back Better is such a good program. Because in Vermont, if we get broadband, everybody gets broadband. If we get childcare to be affordable, everyone gets childcare to be affordable. And this is about creating a government that works for everyday people.

Just after you announced that you would run for Senate, independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed your campaign. If you were to win the seat, you'd be working with Bernie Sanders, whose term does not expire next year, the way Patrick Leahy’s does. What can you tell us about your relationship with Senator Sanders right now?

Well, it goes back to when he was mayor. I mean, both Bernie and Patrick and I worked hand in glove the entire time we were all in Congress. And it's actually one of the joys of my service in Congress that I had good relationships with the two of them because the three of us share the love for Vermont. And that continues.

Since Senator Leahy's announcement, there has been a decent amount of coverage pointing to the fact that Vermont has never sent a woman to Washington, D.C. And Senator Leahy, who's retiring, is 81. You're in your mid-70s. What's your message to people who say, hey, we’ve just got to get this delegation younger and you know, maybe, more diverse?

Well, the message is this. Our country is at a moment of crisis, our democracy is at a moment of crisis, and it's an all hands on deck situation in everybody. Everybody who wants to contribute to saving our democracy, and saving our country has a way to contribute. So I encourage everybody to do whatever it is that they think will be helpful to us in that effort.

There will likely also be a fierce race to replace you in the U.S. House. That seat has not been open in 15 years. Do you have any preference on who would run to replace you in that seat?

There's going to be some really, really good candidates and the Vermonters are going to decide that race just as they'll decide and will be the next United States Senator.

Talk to me about the U.S. Senate filibuster. If you were to join the Senate, would you move to do away with it?

Filibuster’s gotta go.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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