Congressional Corner With Peter Welch | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Peter Welch

Apr 2, 2020

Spring break turned into summer vacation.

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

This conversation was recorded on March 24.

Here we are in the Congressional Corner with our friend, Peter Welch. He's a terrific guy, you gotta love him. And he's the only congressman from all of Vermont. And we've been talking to him for many years now and have such affection for the guy because he tends to tell you what he's thinking. OK, I want to talk to you a little bit about all the college students who got sent home. What happens to them?

Well, I'm actually, frankly, I'm more worried about what happens to the colleges. I mean, it's incredibly inconvenient for a student to get sent home. You know, here it is March. They've got a couple more months of the semester, and they've got to do distance learning. And it's a real hardship because, you know, most college students really enjoy being on campus and interacting with their professors and their fellow students. Spring is coming. So it's really, really tough for them. But I think they get it that this is a public health necessity. But this is what's really, really the long term brutal reality, and why we've got to help our educational institutions. They have to refund the room and board, the unused room and board. And that's going to be expensive. Like at Bennington College that could be like $1.8 million. And then this is the time of year when students are visiting, like at the University of Vermont. And it's really urgent for all of our colleges to get new students. That's the key. And a big selling point in Vermont for all our institutions is Vermont, and the campuses. So the fact that prospective students can come here is really, really brutal and ominous financially. So part of what I want us to be able to do in our relief package is acknowledge that these institutions, these nonprofits, like our colleges that are essential, that they be there when the lights go back on, that we provide them with economic assistance so that they can hang in.

No, I know. Peter Welch said you are not in favor of politicizing all of this. And yet there are political consequences that are happening here. You've got a president of the United States who is going against much of the decision making by health professionals to make people stay home. He wants to open things up again. What do you think?

He should follow the advice of the medical professionals. I mean, this is not, our health is not a political issue. This is an eminent existent virus that is making people very sick, in some cases causing a serious long term injury. And in many cases, people are dying. And it's not just older people. They tend to be the most vulnerable, when you're hearing about that. But there are younger people as well. And the way to address this is to follow the advice of the scientist, the immunologist, and in the public health officials, and the president should be the one reinforcing that message. Certainly Governor Scott. I think Governor Cuomo is. I've seen a lot of him on TV lately, and he's all business when it comes to what do we have to do, as painful as it is, to protect our health. And the president obviously, above all, should be the one absolutely insisting that science, good medical advice, that's what we follow. That's what determines what we do.

Well, you know, you've been a big Bernie supporter all along. Bernie seems to be falling behind now. Has that led you to recalculate? Or as a politician from Vermont? Is that too dangerous?

It's not about me recalculating. You mean the race has really changed, you know, from Super Tuesday on, Vice President Biden had very stunning victories. And he got very, very significant votes from just about all demographics. Bernie's focus continues to be extremely strong among younger people. But that is not enough in everything we see, the delegate race has a huge edge for Biden. And Bernie's indicated that he's appreciated the results, and he's in the process of assessing what he's going to do. So, you know, the voters have spoken here. And, you know, I'm very proud of what Bernie's accomplished, because I think more than any other person who's on the Democratic side, he's led the agenda, and it's really about helping working families who have been neglected, disregarded at the expense of intensifying income inequality for the very prosperous corporations and wealthy Americans. So Bernie's done a great job. But obviously Biden has been the victor in these primary. Super Tuesday, and then Big Tuesday. And, you know, I think we'll see what Bernie has to say. And when he says it.

Peter Welch, is it important for us to hear more from Vice President Biden? He’s been largely silent. I think they're revving it up a little bit now. But I think the risk for him is that he would be perceived as politicizing all of this. On the other hand, if he's gonna run for president, he is the other side of the coin. What do you think?

He's trying to get out, but let's be candid here. This coronavirus is dominating everything. And obviously, the President can have his daily briefing and get a lot of media attention, but I don't think anybody's got an appetite for politicizing anything. I mean, there'll be plenty of time for that. But it's all hands on deck. to arrest the spread of this disease, and the sooner we succeed in that, the sooner we're gonna get our economy back together, and then we'll have plenty of time for the normal give and take in politics. So I have been hearing that criticism of Biden but how in the world they criticize when the news is always about coronavirus with the rescue package is going to be in the urgency of social distancing? But let's get this behind us. I hope we will. And I hope it's sooner rather than later. And there'll be plenty of time for Biden to be out there. And he will be there's no question about that, because there's a lot to talk about between him and President Trump. I mean, President Trump, by the way in his budget, you know, he wanted to cut the Center for Disease Control by 16%. And my goodness, we're lucky we have that Center for Disease Control. I mean, that's the front line that’s protecting the public health here. And I think President Trump's gonna have to answer for that.

Something else you may have to answer for is that how we get control of the disease? Because he keeps saying that the cure is worse than the disease. That's unbelievable to me.

Well, it is to me, Alan. It's just stunning. I mean, first of all, the major responsibility that chief executive has, is to be prepared. And we had an organization in the National Security Agency that was specifically set up to prepare us for a pandemic. And that's because those who were studying this knew that we would have one. They didn't know when, they didn't know what it would be, but they knew it would happen. And when it happened, it would happen suddenly, and you had to be prepared in advance. It's like, you need a fire department before the fire alarm goes off. If you want to be able to do anything about it. You can't build a fire station and order the trucks when there's a five alarm fire in progress. And that's what happened in the Trump administration. They disbanded that. Trump disbanded that. So when it came to this pandemic, the things that we needed, protocols, personal protective equipment, the N-35, mask. All of those things that could be there waiting to be used when necessary. None of that was there. And it's really causing us to have a much slower response to this virus, both with respect to having our health professionals protected. And God bless our health workers. I mean, they're showing up every day no matter what. But isn't it awful that they have to worry about whether they have the personal protective equipment necessary to keep them safe, keep them safe because we respect them and they're entitled to that? But keep them safe also, because they're keeping us healthy, or they're getting us going from sick to well? So, I mean, those are questions that I think President Trump at some point is gonna have to address.

Well, Peter Welch is our friend. He's been on this for many years now. He's a Democrat at large meaning the only one in all of Vermont. He's been in office since 2007. And Peter, may you continue to reign. Delighted to have you as our guest, and we'll be back soon with another one.

Thank you.