Ever since Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) has positioned himself as a conciliator willing to work across the aisle to find common ground. That approach has sometimes elicited criticism from Vermont liberals (remember ACORN?),who want their representatives to stand a little taller for their views.
Like, say, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
But Welch believes he has served his constituents by seeking areas of agreement with Republicans. As a member of the minority, he told Seven Days this week, “I needed Republicans to get anything done.” But, he added, “To some extent they also needed me. They needed some Democratic validation to get a bill signed by President Obama.”
“It’s a totally new world with Donald Trump,” he noted. In response to the Republican firebrand’s election, Welch is trying to “come to some judgments about what’s a practical way for me to represent Vermont.”
In Trumpland, “a practical way” might mean anything up to, and including, fierce opposition. Indeed, in a relatively brief interview, Welch used the words “fierce” or “fiercely” several times.
Welch rattled off some of the deal-breakers that would prompt a “fierce” response: If Trump proposes big tax cuts for the wealthy or other measures that could exacerbate income inequality; if he threatens fundamental civil liberties or “challenges our democratic institutions”; if there’s a repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a suitable replacement.
“The question will be, will the Republicans try to overreach?” he said. “Are they going to push way beyond the limits of reasonable and rely on the fact that they’ve got a president who will probably sign whatever they put on his desk?”
“My hope is that there will be some reasonable Republicans who realize that it’s important to try to have some compromise with progressive Democrats.”
At best, he admitted, “There will be times when I will have to be much more oppositional than I have been in the past.”
Foremost on many Vermonters’ minds is uncertainty over federal funding to the states. Welch tacitly acknowledged that in the majority-dominated House, he has little leverage to block cuts that could hit hard back home.
“The biggest thing that I can try to do is get real-time information back to Vermont,” he said, “specific information about how many people would be affected in Vermont, and how it would affect our state budget.”
That includes, he noted more than once, working closely with Republican governor-elect Phil Scott. Which could be one small positive out of all this D.C. upheaval: It may encourage Vermont politicians of all stripes to set their own differences aside in pursuit of the common good.