Members of Vermont’s congressional delegation backed Gov. Phil Scott’s call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, but said such a move was unlikely.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., shared their experiences during the assault by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol complex this week, as well as their thoughts on what needs to be done in response. The office of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the third members of the Vermont delegation, offered no response to numerous inquiries Thursday.
“It was a direct assault on democracy,” Welch said. “It was pretty incredible.”
A mob of Trump supporters stormed the building Wednesday as a joint session of Congress met to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. At the time of the breach, the two houses were separately debating one of the challenges to the ballots brought by Republicans.
“All of a sudden, several people rushed in,” Leahy said.
Leahy said he recognized some as Capitol Police in plain clothes. He said he saw one uniformed officer in “battle gear” and carrying an automatic weapon and other officers with guns drawn.
“You don’t see that sort of thing in the Senate chamber where there are rules and decorum,” Leahy said.
Welch described House leadership being quickly led out and members being told to don gas masks.
“We were hearing shouts,” he said. “We were hearing shattering of glass. We were hearing sharp sounds that we didn’t know if it was a bullet.”
Leahy said the Senate was evacuated through the back stairs.
“The parliamentarian staff, in a brilliant move, grabbed the boxes of certified election results that were on the podium,” Leahy said. “In retrospect you can only imagine what it would have been like if the rioters got ahold of those.”
Online accounts have described hundreds of House members and staffers being sequestered a room where a number of them went without masks.
“When it came to the mob invasion, obviously safety required us to bunch together escaping the assault,” said Welch, who had been on the balcony during the debate in an effort to maintain social distancing. “It was definitely a super-spreader event. Most of us had masks on but some Republicans did not.”
According to published reports, Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kansas, received positive results from a COVID test later that day. Welch said he was not directly exposed to LaTurner and did not notice whether he was wearing a mask.
“I did see (Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas) — she had a mask,” he said. “It was reported a couple days ago she had tested positive.”
Welch said the room has a high-tech air pressure and filtration system in order to withstand gas attacks, though that might not have been of much benefit if someone inside had COVID. Welch said he had been planning to isolate following the session anyway. He said he got his first dose of vaccine this week and that his colleagues in the Senate got theirs earlier.
Leahy said about 90 senators wound up in a room together where everyone was masked except for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
“He claims he had COVID, so he’s no threat to anybody,” Leahy said. “He struts about that way, and everybody just stays away from him.”
Leahy said they discussed reconvening then and there, citing a meeting of the Senate held in New York City after 9/11 as a precedent, but Leahy said as the senior member of the Senate he felt obligated to speak up against the idea.
“Why should we let a bunch of roaming criminals have the elected representatives of the people have to talk from a hideout,” he said. “We said we want the American people to see us.”
Back in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott reacted to the spectacle by calling upon Trump to resign, be removed by the vice president and cabinet under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution or be impeached once again by the House and this time removed from office by the Senate.
Thursday, the Vermont House of Representatives joined with Scott, approving a resolution calling for Trump to be removed.
“This resolution leaves no doubt as to where the General Assembly stands on the violent insurrection that occurred at the United States Capitol and our firm belief that the future of our country is in danger if President Trump remains in Power,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski wrote in a statement following the vote.
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan weighed in Thursday as well, calling for a criminal investigation into Trump’s role in inciting the riot.
Welch said he supports the calls for impeachment, but indicated it was unlikely Congress would take such an action.
“President Trump is engaged in criminal conduct,” he said. “He violated the most sacred responsibility a leader has, which is to respect the results of an election. ... He should be impeached. ... This president should be gone, gone, gone. There’s no end to his capacity to do damage. ... That mob had a leader. It was Donald Trump. That mob had a plan. It was to overturn the election. That’s unprecedented.”
Welch said Trump should resign, but acknowledged that seemed unlikely. Then he said the vice president and Cabinet should remove him as unfit under the 25th amendment to the constitution, but that seemed unlikely as well. Impeachment, he said, faced a number of practical challenges, starting with the fact that Congress was in recess until Jan. 19. Beyond that, he said there were complicated logistics and timetables involved in drawing up articles of impeachment.
“That’s even without talking about the opposition that would come from several of my Republican colleagues in the House who basically voted to overturn the election this morning,” he said.
Leahy similarly said Trump should somehow be removed from office, but said there was no way that could be accomplished prior to Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“The president committed a terrible criminal act that resulted in deaths and undermined our image around the world,” Leahy said.
But Leahy was also doubtful about the prospects of a resignation or invocation of the 25th Amendment.
“I don’t know if they have that courage,” he said. “If it’s not (invoked), I’d be worried from now until noon on the 20th.”
Welch and Leahy said they anticipated hearings into the failure of security at the Capitol Building.
“So many of the police were putting their lives on the line to protect us, but it was a thin line,” Leahy said. “There is no question there should have been reinforcements.”
Welch said he was surprised security was not tighter, noting that the security that accompanies the vice president is usually “quite extensive.”
“The number of officers was way below what I would see on occasions where the vice president was present,” he said. “When something big is happening at the Capitol, there is such a heightened level of security. It’s not just like your ordinary day.”
Welch said he walked through the building during the aftermath and saw the desecrated statue of President Zachary Taylor, a picture frame lying on the floor with the picture gone and other scattered debris.
“It was a sorry sight,” he said.