Welch hears more anger and frustration over Trump

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BENNINGTON — In a jam-packed variety store and at a pre-town meeting rally, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch heard more expressions of intense frustration and anger toward the actions of the Trump administration and the Republican-dominated Congress.

Vermont's lone representative in the House had earlier in the day met with an estimated 150 people at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester during a day-long tour of Bennington County. Based on that large mid-day crowd, Welch probably knew what was coming.

He began his remarks Monday at the Elm Street Market with a joke, reporting that all was running smoothly in Washington. That drew an immediate loud laugh from the more than 50 residents who squeezed into the corner market, but it was harsh laughter.

"What do we do to let them know about the need for the preservation —" a resident began.

"Of basic principles," another resident finished for her. "Basic principles, democratic values!"

"And they are acting like worms; they are acting like people who only care about their power," the first speaker continued, referring to President Trump and Republicans in Congress. "They don't care about the beauty of this delicate Constitution and our institutions."

Welch repeatedly assured those at his Congress in Your Community gathering that he shared their frustration in opposing administration initiatives to overturn the Affordable Care Act, reject refugees based on their religion, slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, sidetrack efforts to deal with climate change, among other issues.

Several times he said, "I know" or "I understand," while motioning with his hand to try to tamp down growing rage among Democrats and Progressives around Vermont.

One speaker referred to Republicans "goosestepping behind him [Trump] and voting as a block, so we are really in serious trouble. Since you know them [congressional Republicans], where are there people who could be reasonable, or close to reasonable."

Despite the situation, Welch said it is important to try to understand the frustrations of people who voted for Trump and for other Republicans and to understand "why they have given up on us." He urged those present to continue or start a dialogue with those who don't agree with those in the room

Welch also cautioned that gaining back political power is a slow process that won't happen overnight. But he said he and Vermont's senators, Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, are encouraged and energized by the outpouring of emotion on these and other issues being expressed around the state and the nation.

"The good news is there is a tremendous amount of citizen activism," he said. "People are wide awake."

"I think we have been too nice for too long," a woman told the congressman.

"This is not about being nice; it is about being effective," Welch responded. "Be nice, be tough, be loud, be soft, but the question is, what works?"

Welch described watching the end of the presidential campaign with disbelief that someone who had made numerous controversial statements that once would have disqualified a candidate win the election. The president's subsequent comments and executive actions on immigration, health care "are again what is so jarring to people," he said.

At this time, he said, the most important issue is the protection of constitutional rights and refusing to compromise when those are threatened. "Look, Washington has lost its way right now, and we have to come out of the darkness and into the light," Welch said, adding that the energy to bring about change is coming from the local level.

Town meeting resolution

The congressman also spoke later at an outdoor rally that drew about 70 people at a parking lot near the site of the annual Bennington floor meeting. The rally, sponsored by the Bennington chapter of Rights And Democracy, preceded a march to the meeting and the introduction of a resolution supporting immigration and refugees against restrictions being implemented by the Trump administration.

Welch said he was stunned by "that executive order that was signed with such glee by the president in the Oval Office. You know, if this country stands for anything it is the Statue of Liberty and its open arms for people of all races and creeds that want to be part of the American Dream, and set their feet on our soil and get to work and make better communities, better families and better lives."

Welch said he wished Trump could have been with him when he met with refugees now living in Rutland after overcoming tremendous challenges to come to the United States. "You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer," he said, "to say that because of your religion you can't come to this country. We know that we don't make those distinctions."

He said he was proud to stand with other citizens who were unafraid to oppose the government when individual rights are being challenged. "I thank you for doing what you're doing, and I encourage you to keep it up so we can get our democracy back."

Also speaking at the rally were Mary Gerisch, of the RAD organization, and state Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington.

Those at the event love America, Morris said, "and that is why we are fighting to defend American values, which are not about separatism, not about exclusionary tactics, it's not about cronyism, it's not about borders."

Earlier on Monday, Welch toured the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation and the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center on the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center campus.

He heard about the rehabilitation facility's "music and memory" program and toured expanded kitchen facilities and the short-term rehabilitation unit, then viewed the cancer center's state-of-the-art linear accelerator, which shortens the duration and decreases side effects of radiation therapy.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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