In a historic moment Wednesday night, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) voted to impeach President Donald Trump.
Vermont's sole delegate to the U.S. House joined a majority of his colleagues in seeking removal of the president. It marked the third time that an American president has been impeached.
Welch supported both articles up for a vote on Wednesday. The first accused Trump of abusing the powers of the presidency by seeking Ukrainian interference in the 2020 election. The second alleged that the president obstructed Congress' investigation of the matter.
“It’s the most significant vote I have taken in Congress,” Welch told Seven Days earlier Wednesday. “It’s not difficult because the evidence is overwhelming.”
Speaking on the House floor that afternoon, Welch hailed what he called "our shared respect for the Constitution of the United States" and he accused Trump of violating its "bedrock principles."
By seeking political favors from Ukraine, Welch said, the president had "willfully infringed upon the right of citizens to decide who will lead our nation — and in doing so, he placed himself above the law and in violation of his oath."
When Trump failed to cooperate with the congressional investigation, Welch said, he "repudiated our constitutional system of checks and balances and further violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution."
Welch, who is serving his seventh term in Congress, called Wednesday’s votes “consequential and also very sad.” The impeachment process is “very traumatic for the country,” he told Seven Days. “It’s an extraordinary remedy that the founders provided in the Constitution to be used rarely — and this is a rare occasion.”
The Norwich Democrat spent more than two years resisting efforts by his party’s base to impeach the president. His position shifted in July, when he said that Trump’s refusal to yield to congressional oversight and his racist attacks on members of Congress merited impeachment.
Welch later played a central role in the process. In October, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which he serves, began deposing witnesses to the Ukrainian affair. In November, he participated in the committee’s public impeachment hearings.
Following Wednesday’s vote, the action now moves to the Senate, which can vote to acquit the president or remove him from office. Welch expressed skepticism that the upper chamber would conduct a fair trial, noting the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he is working closely with the White House on how to proceed.
“Even though he’s sitting as a juror, he’s coordinating with the defendant,” Welch said. “So it’s hard to be optimistic that there’s going to be anything on the level where Mitch McConnell is in charge.”
Nevertheless, Welch said he hoped that a simple majority of the Senate would vote to compel production of evidence and testimony from those closest to the president. “It’s pretty obvious that if the Senate wants to have a trial that’s based on evidence, they should seek evidence that they don’t have,” he said.
In written statements issued Wednesday night, Vermont’s two U.S. senators said they took seriously their responsibility to serve as impartial jurors in the Senate’s impeachment trial.
“Whether the Senate functions as a true court of impeachment as the Founders envisioned — steadfastly pursuing the truth and upholding our oaths to pursue impartial justice — or functions merely as President Trump’s legal defense team will define us for decades to come,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. “History will not look kindly upon those who place loyalty to this or any other president above our oaths to the Constitution.”
Leahy, the most senior member of the institution, said, “I have seen the Senate, at its best, rise to the occasion to be the conscience of the nation. If there ever were a time for the Senate to serve as the conscience of the nation, it is now.”
In his own statement, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) repeated his oft-stated assessment that Trump is “the most corrupt president in our history.”
“I call on Mitch McConnell to conduct a full and fair trial to hold this president accountable, and I am fully prepared to uphold my responsibility as a juror in the United States Senate,” Sanders said.
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch's communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.