U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) at the town hall meeting
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) won applause in Montpelier Monday night for his call to impeach Donald Trump, but he also got pushback from citizens worried that such a move would aid the president's reelection effort.
Holding forth in a Statehouse filled with dozens of vociferous Trump foes, Vermont’s only voice in the U.S. House of Representatives outlined how his “enormous reservation” about impeachment had recently given way to his belief that lawmakers need to act.
“I’ve become increasingly alarmed that the guardrails of our democracy are under attack,” Welch said.
Welch cited Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations into issues such as the crisis at the southern border as well as what he called the administration’s efforts to “derail” the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into election interference by Russia.
But he said he was most disturbed by the way four female members of color in the House had been singled out by the president, who said they could go back to the countries they’d come from if they didn’t appreciate this one.
“None of us have the right, least of all the highest elected official in the country, to attack people because of who they are,” Welch said. “No one has the right to tell a person that they should go back to where they came from.”
A sign at the Statehouse
Indeed, it was that attack last week that prompted Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) to try to force a vote on impeaching the president — a measure that, for the first time, Welch backed.
In an effort to head off a direct vote on impeachment, House Democratic leaders succeeded in tabling the resolution. Welch was one of 95 members who voted to continue the impeachment inquiry.
Many of Welch’s denunciations of Trump and explanations for why he felt impeachment was required were met with warm applause from residents who filled the Vermont House chambers.
Montpelier resident Gianna Petito said she worried that the country’s democracy was being “aggressively stolen from we the people.”
Welch listens as a woman speaks.
“I am terrified for the future of this democracy, and democracy around the world,” she lamented, her voice cracking with emotion. “You have my full support.”
Susan Walbridge of Montpelier read a scathing indictment painting Trump as dishonest, insecure and narcissistic, and of the Republican party as lacking the backbone to stop him.
“I am for impeachment! Thank you for being here,” she said to Welch.
But several other residents expressed horror at the idea that an unsuccessful impeachment bid would provide Trump just the platform he needs to win another term.
Such a tactic was “very dangerous” given that the Senate's GOP majority would never go along with impeachment and it would allow Trump to “play us, like he’s been playing us for 30 months,” said Miriam Hansen of East Montpelier.
“If we do it prematurely, we’ll play into his hands, and I’m very concerned about that,” she said. “The only thing I care about is winning!”
John Turner said he appreciated Welch’s desire for impeachment, but worried that it would turn into a “sideshow” and something that “probably can’t be pulled off.”
“Our focus needs to be, the man needs to be voted out of office in November of 2020, and we need to do everything as a Democratic Party to ensure that happens,” Turner said to loud applause.
There were a few signs of support for Trump in the room.
One man, who said he was a veteran and proud of the military’s support of “the homeland,” held his phone up as though taking a video as he repeatedly pressed Welch on what “high crimes and misdemeanors” Trump had committed.
Welch again outlined how he felt Trump was obstructing congressional inquiries: “The president is acting as though he’s above the law and beyond the law when he completely rejects the Article 1 responsibilities of oversight of the House of Representatives."
A man wearing a Make America Great Again hat, who would give his name only as Chad, defended the president. He said he appreciated Trump’s strength, honesty and business acumen and claimed Barack Obama had been “running the country into the ground.” He concluded vaguely that Welch “didn’t give enough probable cause” for Trump’s impeachment.
After his remarks, Welch denied that he had called for Trump’s impeachment only after the president targeted his House colleagues. While he denounced the president’s remarks, he noted that the congresswomen who Trump targeted are “relatively empowered people.”
Welch said he was more concerned about the fear that Trump is instilling in those with less power, such as immigrant populations.
While the effect of Trump’s offenses has been cumulative, it was his reelection speech that convinced Welch that Trump had to go.
“It became crystal clear that he was going to double down on this approach of division,” Welch said.