MONTPELIER — Criticism of President Donald Trump’s leadership style and the partial government shutdown over border wall funding came from U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., at a meeting of the Montpelier Rotary Club on Monday.
Welch, along with the rest of Vermont’s Congressional delegation, has condemned Trump and the Republican Party for refusing to approve a spending bill unless Democrats agree to include $5.1 billion for a border wall to deter illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border. It has resulted in roughly 400,000 federal workers being furloughed, and another 400,000 or so are required to work in essential services without a paycheck. In Vermont, about 1,300 federal workers are affected.
Welch has said he would not accept his congressional salary until the government shutdown is resolved.
“We’ve got problems in Washington now, and it’s serious,” Welch said. “The problem here is really a symptom of the new development that I haven’t seen since I’ve been in Washington, and that’s a breakdown of norms.
“Whatever your point of view is, whatever the law is, I think most of us know that what really guides our behavior is not whether we’re following the letter of the law or the rules of the road, it’s a common, shared sensibility about parameters and limits and expectations, and that is what’s under assault now: respect for institutions, respect for the rule of law, respect for the role of the press and the restraint in the use of political tactics.
“The use of a tactic like a shutdown or the use of the tactic which happened a while ago, of defaulting on our debt in order to achieve a political object, is ultimately going to cause more harm than whatever good you’re trying to achieve,” he added.
Welch said, despite previous shutdowns, the current standoff was unique because Trump “is the sponsor of the shutdown.”
He noted that both parties had already agreed to a budget that was “a reasonable compromise,” where many controversial add-ons were removed with party leadership approval, and that Trump was expected to sign.
Then, Welch said, alt-right radio host Rush Limbaugh and others criticized Trump for caving on border wall funding and Trump refused to sign the proposed budget, which forced the government shutdown.
Welch said he found the effect on federal workers “very, very disturbing” because people were unable to pay for child care costs, rent or student loans.
“That’s real, and the idea that anybody in Washington, including the president, would be so cavalier about the human impact for people who are trying to make their way upsets me a lot,” Welch said.
Welch said he was also concerned about attacks on American institutions eroding people’s trust in government.
“If I learned anything in my life and public life, it’s the importance of each of us to create resilient institutions,” Welch said. “Embedded in that is (a), a sense of service, but (b), a sense of humility, that the challenges are going to continue long after you’re gone.”
Welch said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should allow a vote on the budget, and not let Trump dictate the terms of the budget process.
Welch said the Congress had a constitutional duty under Article 1 to pass a budget, and then Trump could weigh in.
He said the larger issue — and subject for debate — was immigration, not just the border wall by itself.
Welch noted that the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House after the November election was a check against Republican control of Congress and the White House.
Welch said more important issues to address were the high cost of prescription drugs and the need to build infrastructure in rural Vermont and America.
“We have to start focusing on rural America and the middle-class challenges that are making it tough for people who are living with stagnant wages and rising expenses,” Welch said. “Those are structural issues in the economy that have to be addressed by Republicans, Democrats and independents. So, I want to get the shutdown behind us.”