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WAMC News

Biden Inauguration: Vermont Rep. Peter Welch Says "What A Difference Two Weeks Makes"

Rep. Peter Welch, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy
WAMC/Pat Bradley
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Rep. Peter Welch, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy

Joe Biden took the oath of office at noon Wednesday to become the 46th president of the United States. He takes charge in a deeply divided nation, inheriting a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors. WAMC has been speaking with members of Congress from the Northeast who attended the inauguration. Democratic Rep. Peter Welch represents Vermont.

What a difference. We were on the west front, where the mob first made its entrance. And they went in the door that President Biden came out for him to take the oath of office. What a difference two weeks makes.

What's the lesson of that?

Well, the lesson really, is that President Trump or any president should never attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election. I mean, that was a disgraceful display on the part of former President Trump for he assembled that mob, incited that mob and gave them a task. And, that is to go down and intimidate members, including vice president to not certify the election. That's going to be seen as a disgraceful episode in our history. But, the renewal was today and has been the case, since 1789, every four years the new president has taken the oath of office and, we did it again today. So, that's a cause of affirmation of our democracy.

Now, President Biden said it's time to end the uncivil war, a term that a lot of people today have been focusing on. He pledged to be a president for everybody, even those who didn't vote for him but, it seems given the divisions in the country he'll have his work cut out for him. How possible is what he talked about today to carry off?

Well, there really is a possibility and here's why; the challenges facing our country, they include a lot of angry debate and a lot of misinformation. But, there are two things that unify the country and it's the challenge that faces all of us of COVID, and it's the challenge that faces all of us of reviving an economy that's been wracked by COVID. So, the things we need to do, that are going to be making us healthy in red states, or blue states are the same. And, that's identical with the economy; you have a restaurant out of business in Burlington, Vermont, or one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they need help. So, the challenges that Americans face, face Americans who are Trump, Republicans or Biden, Democrats.

How much pressure is there on your party, the Democrats, to get that done, given the fact that you now have control of the White House and by a very slim margin, both houses of Congress? You know, this pandemic and its its economic impacts have been huge.

Well, there's great responsibility, and President Biden's is clearly eager to embrace that. But, to say the responsibility is just on one party, including the majority party; the whole point here is that every one of us republican or democrat has a responsibility to try to do the best for the American people. So this is a collective responsibility. Yes, President Biden he's the Democratic president, but the problems he find face every single American. So, all of us who have elected positions have to find ways to solve those problems.

Just a couple more things about today's inauguration, Congressman: what was your vantage point and how was it different from previous inaugurations you've gone to?

Well, it's similar. I was on the platform in some of the risers. So, I had an extraordinarily beautiful view of the whole ritual. And it was just a thrill to be there; more exciting than I realized, and a lot of it is the weight of these past four years and, especially these past two weeks where things that we took for granted, the peaceful transition of power; they were being assaulted, and now they have been affirmed. And, that's what this inauguration was, an affirmation of the Democratic principle that the people decide who their leaders are. So it was very, very wonderful to participate as a citizen in that ritual.

Did the American institutions withstand the Trump years?

They did, but they're stressed and we have much work to do. But, you know, you saw the courts, including Trump judges reject his baseless suits. You saw some Republican secretaries of state do their duty. You saw Vice President Pence very gracefully show up today and acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power. So yes, the institution's held but they were stressed and we have to get back to respecting the mutual norms that have guided us.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about the new Vice President of the United States for the first time in our long history; It's a woman, Kamala Harris, what do you think of that?

Well, it's tremendous! You know, she's highly regarded, highly respected, she earned it. And, it's a testament to the aspirations that this country has had since the beginning of expanding opportunity. And, here he is the first woman to serve in that job, the first person of Asian descent, and Indian descent to serve in that position and the first African American, you know, so this is extraordinary.

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