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News | Impeachment express: Next stop, Peter Welch

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted April 30, 2007

NEWFANE — Emboldened by a victory in the state Senate, and a near victory in the House, impeachment supporters will meet Friday with Rep. Peter Welch in hopes they can get the first-term Democrat to provide a greater platform for their push to have Congress investigate Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.

On April 20, the state Senate voted 16-9 in favor of Congress launching an impeachment probe into Bush and Cheney’s actions. Less than a week later, the House defeated a similar measure 87-60.

Impeachment supporters were told they would not likely have more than two dozen supporters in the chamber, so they see the 60 votes as a victory.

Now, impeachment supporters are in talks with Welch and his staff in an effort to get him to host a town meeting-style forum on impeachment, as well as sign on to a resolution introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, calling for an investigation into the impeachment of Vice Pres. Dick Cheney. Kucinich introduced the legislation on April 24. They are also urging people to call and write his offices.

Welch reached out personally to impeachment advocates today, and both sides hope to meet Friday in White River Junction.

Welch, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, issued a joint statement after the state Senate vote, urging Vermonters to let a series of investigations currently underway to be completed.

Welch reiterated that in an interview with the Guardian.

“My hat is off to the citizen activists in Vermont for bringing their case to the Legislature; they are representative of the proud tradition we have in Vermont to speaking out,” said Welch. “People are expressing broad outrage about this president’s handling of the war, his treatment of civil liberties, and the use of bogus intelligence, and there is a lot of common ground here on holding the president and vice president accountable. The major question is the best way to make that happen.”

Welch said the current investigations on everything from the war to the firing of U.S. attorneys are potentially the beginning of further action, not the end. He said the current probes into the Bush administration are akin to the congressional investigations into the Nixon administration.

“Those investigations weren’t the end, but the beginning of the end and brought out the facts that led to articles of impeachment,” said Welch. “It didn’t begin with filing articles of impeachment. My fundamental concern is ending this war.”

Democrats need to use these investigations as a way to chip away at Bush’s support in the GOP, and convince Republicans that the administration needs to be held accountable, Welch said.

“If we’re going to end the war we’re going to have to move beyond the 218 votes,” said Welch, noting the number of Democrats, and two Republicans, who voted recently for a war funding bill that includes a withdrawal timetable. “There is united Democratic opposition to the war and only two Republicans voted for accountability, no blank check, and a timetable. There are some folks who believe impeachment is a way to end the war, but my major reservation is that impeachment is one approach guaranteed to solidify Republican opposition.”

Jimmy Leas, of South Burlington, notes that without the threat of impeachment, the hearings offer no substantive punishment for any wrongdoing.

"There are a lot of people who are feeling that Congress is not doing enough, and that if an impeachment investigation is started it will generate a huge public participation all over the county — everyone will be involved," said Leas. "We are seeing that in Vermont where the discussion in Vermont is mobilizing people, and that is more important than what the Repblicans will do."

On CBS’ Face the Nation on April 29, Rep. John Murtha, D-PA, a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, mentioned impeachment as one of four ways that a president can be influenced. The other three were public opinion, the purse, and an election. He wouldn’t say if impeachment was “on the table.”

The focus on Welch comes just days after National Impeachment Day on April 28 saw a small rally in Burlington, and dozens more around the nation.

“We are a strong movement now and we don't want to storm the castle before knocking on the door. While we have tried to keep [Welch] in the conversation, so much of our local movement has been focusing on the state Legislature, as there was the time constraint of the session ending,” wrote Liza Earle, of Richmond, who helped organize several State House rallies, in an e-mail to supporters on April 28. “Now that we turn our energy to Peter, I think we first we should have the approach, “How can we [the movement and Peter Welch] work together on this?”

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Dan DeWalt, a Newfane selectman whose own efforts in 2006 helped to spawn a more statewide movement this year, impeachment supporters also plan to start “being places where [Welch] is going to be.

“That’s where our focus is,” added DeWalt. “I wasn’t expecting a victory out of the House vote last week and we never really had a full chance to make our case to the Legislature, because the resolution never got a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and there were many legislators who were not around when we had the House floor.”

In the hours prior to the House vote on April 25, House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, gave impeachment backers an unprecedented command of the House floor. Symington, who did not support the resolution, allowed those who did to speak directly to her, and in some cases engage directly in a debate.

For example, impeachment supporters expect to have “robust contingent” at a fundraiser planned for next week at the Riverview Café. Impeachment backers plan to sing “impeachment serenades” to Welch and his guests at the café, which is located next to the bridge heading across the Connecticut River.

“That’s where our focus is right now, at least for some us, I certainly can’t speak for everyone,” said DeWalt, who is energized by the increasing number of people who are publicly supporting the impeachment Bush and Cheney.

DeWalt is also leading the Vermont impeachment fife and drum corps outside the state, meeting this past weekend with activists in Massachusetts.

More than a dozen towns in Massachusetts, along with additional towns in Connecticut, will vote on impeachment resolutions at annual town meetings in the comings weeks. “What we’re doing in this state is being magnified outside of the state and having an impact,” he said. “I was just down in Boston and there were hundreds of people who are working on impeachment resolutions.”

Now that the dust has settled, DeWalt and others are trying to learn from their lessons as they move forward.

The biggest story of last week is that a group of Vermonters were told by its political leaders that “something was not going to happen and we went to our leaders and they did make it happen; they actually listened,” said DeWalt. “This was a result of the people, and we realized that sovereignty in the hands of the people is more than an empty phrase.”

They hope the same people-powered lever can be used to get Welch to open up to the idea.

One impeachment backer, Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, believes that a compromise resolution — one calling on Congress to begin an impeachment investigation but without a list of offenses — could have been passed. But, hardliners in support of the Senate-backed impeachment resolution from Burlington and then Windham County wouldn’t budge.

“I like winning and we could have crafted something that would have won and expressed our mutual outrage about the Bush administration and called for full accountability and investigation,” said Fisher. “It just floors me that advocates of impeachment chose defeat.”

DeWalt said he was willing to go with a compromise resolution, but is not sure about other key organizers who helped to bring more than 400 Vermonters into the State House. Those people represented 102 of Vermont’s 251 communities.

In 2006, seven Vermont communities passed resolutions urging Congress to impeach Bush and Cheney. This year, 40 towns passed such measures, and another two dozen towns passed measures calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The Legislature passed a troop withdrawal resolution earlier this year, with the backing of Symington.

Jericho and Hartland, the home owns of Symington and Welch respectively, supported resolutions calling on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.