U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) on Thursday became the first member of Vermont’s congressional delegation to call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
“I do not arrive at this conclusion lightly,” Welch wrote in a statement released Thursday morning. “The power of impeachment granted to Congress by our Founding Fathers should not be casually employed.”
But, he argued, Trump “has established a clear pattern of willful disregard for our Constitution and its system of checks and balances. His presidency has wrought an unprecedented and unrelenting assault on the pillars and guardrails of our democracy, including the rule of law on which our country was founded.”
Welch’s 382-word statement included a litany of grievances against the president. He accused Trump of attacking the courts, the press, the rule of law and democracy itself. But in a conference call with reporters on Thursday afternoon, Welch pointed to a pair of offenses he said had pushed him over the edge: Trump’s refusal to comply with congressional oversight and his racist attacks on four members of Congress.
“I mean, the two things that really changed my mind were, one, my conclusion that the stonewalling is not gonna stop. The president’s been here 30 months. He’s made it crystal clear that he is not going to respect the constitutional responsibilities under Article 1 of the United States Congress,” Welch said. “And, No. 2, it’s very clear that his attacks on American citizens on the basis of their ethnic origin, their religion and their race are intensifying. And my alarm is that this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
Welch did not say that his decision was driven by the two allegations investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller: that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to swing the 2016 election or that the president obstructed justice.
Since the start of Trump’s presidency, Welch has expressed deep skepticism about the wisdom of seeking his impeachment. Welch first argued that Congress should await the conclusion of Mueller’s inquiry before weighing in on the matter. He subsequently said his colleagues would be better served focusing on policymaking than impeachment. While he called for congressional investigation of the president, he warned that pursuing impeachment would play into Trump’s hands.
“I was a reluctant person to come to support impeachment,” he conceded to reporters Thursday afternoon. “My view has long been that we should be doing investigations that follow the facts. And it’s become apparent that the president is going to refuse to allow Congress to do that job.”
According to a list maintained by CNN, Welch became the 87th member of the 435-person House to endorse impeachment. He said he had texted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to give her a heads-up about his decision but had not pushed her to move forward with it. He said it was “not at all clear” whether there would be sufficient support in the House to file articles of impeachment.
Welch’s two colleagues in Vermont's congressional delegation, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have so far declined to follow his lead. Neither was available for an interview Thursday, according to their respective spokespeople.
In a written statement, Leahy said he supported the House’s ongoing investigations into the Trump administration. “And I understand why many members of Congress have concluded that President Trump should be impeached and convicted, given his disregard for our norms and the rule of law, the open corruption and undue foreign influence, and rampant misconduct detailed in the Mueller report. Not to mention his attempts to divide Americans with bigoted and xenophobic speech and policies.”
Leahy did not, however, say that the House should impeach and the Senate should convict the president.
“The decision whether to initiate impeachment proceedings is up to the House of Representatives,” Leahy said. “But I think it’s critical that we gather all the facts and lay them before Congress and the American people, just as Congress did with President Nixon.”
Welch first signaled a shift in his thinking Wednesday, when he voted to at least debate impeachment — a first for him.
Welch, however, joined 94 other Democrats in voting to keep the resolution alive.
On Thursday, Welch said his procedural vote did not constitute an endorsement of the Green measure as written. “My vote was more about moving forward on the impeachment discussion than it was the specific content of that resolution,” he said.
Welch declined to say whether and how he disagreed with the Green resolution but said the House Judiciary Committee would be the appropriate author of any forthcoming impeachment resolution.
One of Welch’s own committees, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is scheduled to take testimony from Mueller next week. He said he believed the former special counsel might push the American people toward impeachment because he is “a source that is respected.”
During Thursday’s press call, Welch criticized the president for presiding over a rally Wednesday night in Greenville, N.C., featuring an angry crowd chanting racist slogans. As Trump denigrated Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Muslim refugee originally from Somalia, his audience chanted, “Send her back! Send her back!” The president declined to intervene.
“The president has chosen to be as divisive as he possibly can be,” Welch said. “And that’s his tactic to govern, and that’s his tactic to campaign. And last night’s rally was a very vivid example of that, where he just incited the crowd to engage in that chant of, ‘Send her back! Send her back!’”
Welch added, “And my judgment is that, as bad as it’s been, it’s gonna get much worse.”
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch's communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.