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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Opinion
Walters: The Leahy-Gorsuch Two-Step

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 10:49 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy questions Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. - RON SACHS / CNP VIA AP
  • Ron Sachs / CNP via AP
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy questions Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
U.S. Supreme Court nomination hearings are a tightly choreographed dance. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee deliver lengthy orations with questions dangling precariously at the end, and nominees try their best not to say anything that might reveal the slightest hint of an opinion.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has performed this dance more than probably any other human being who’s ever walked the earth, as the Senate’s longest currently serving member and the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, he took a new partner for a spin: Appellate Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee. It was the second day of Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings but the first time the nominee was questioned under oath.

As in a dance, each partner plays a well-rehearsed role and is fully aware of the other’s moves. The one big difference: Astaire tries to step on his partner’s toes and provoke a reaction, while Rogers’ face maintains a resolute smile.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Leahy sometimes provoked a visible clench from the witness and a response best described as obsequious condescension. Gorsuch isn’t quite a skilled enough Rogers to completely hide his political differences with Leahy and his impatience with the senator’s tactics.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Officials: Vermont Would Take $200 Million Hit Under New Health Plan

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 6:01 PM

Mary Kate Mohlman, state director of health care reform, and Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, talk to reporters Friday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Mary Kate Mohlman, state director of health care reform, and Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, talk to reporters Friday.
If Congress’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act goes through as proposed, Vermont would lose just shy of $200 million a year in federal Medicaid funding starting in 2020, state leaders said Friday.

“We think Vermonters should know this,” Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said at a media briefing in Montpelier. “You cannot tell from the coverage of these bills what impact this will have on Vermonters and we think that’s important.”

The Republican House majority’s proposal passed two key committees in Washington on Thursday and could reach the House floor by the end of March, according to news reports. The plan would replace federal insurance subsidies with individual tax credits and grants. President Donald Trump has endorsed the plan.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Trump’s Vermont Campaign Director Gets Job in New Admin

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 10:06 PM

Darcie Johnston at a Vermont Republican Party gathering in August - FILE
  • file
  • Darcie Johnston at a Vermont Republican Party gathering in August
Last we heard, Darcie Johnston was in D.C. prepping for president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s Vermont campaign manager hoped to land a full-time job with the new administration.

Johnston, it appears, got her wish. Records obtained by ProPublica show that she was hired January 24 — just a few days after the inauguration — as a special assistant in the Department of Health and Human Services, a job listed at a starting salary of $88,136.

Johnston is one of 400 “beachhead team” hires the president has dispatched to various agencies of federal government to “serve as his eyes and ears,” the nonprofit news outlet said. Such positions are temporary and do not require the confirmation hearings appointees must undergo.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Welch Pleased After Meeting With Trump

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 10:26 PM

Congressman Peter Welch - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Congressman Peter Welch

When approaching the self-proclaimed Master of the Deal, it’s best to offer him a chance to play dealmaker.

That’s what Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) took away from a Wednesday meeting with President Donald Trump. The subject: a bill championed by Welch and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) that would allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for the Medicare program, which is currently forbidden by federal law.

“President Trump was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this,” Welch reported. “He was not having staff whispering in his ear telling him what was going on. This was him totally in control and vividly aware of how expensive these prescription drugs are.”

The Oval Office sit-down included Welch, Cummings, and Dr. Redonda Miller, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a former Georgia congressman.

Welch and Cummings have introduced the same legislation for eight years, and always run into what Welch called a “stone wall of resistance” from House Republicans.

When Price was serving in Congress, he was one of those devout stonewallers. He has also faced ethical questions about some very profitable trades in health care stocks he made when he had access to inside information as a member of a key House subcommittee.

It must have made Price a bit uncomfortable to hear his boss praising the idea. And Welch didn’t shy away from pointing out the discrepancy.

“I mentioned that Secretary Price had always been resistant to this when he was my colleague in the House,” Welch said, “so the president asked Price about that, and he said he’s against price fixing, price setting. And the president seemed undeterred by that, because I pointed out that price negotiation is what you do between a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

Welch called it “surprising” that Republicans oppose free-market dealmaking in the case of drug prices. “And the president said it’s probably because Big Pharma is very powerful in lobbying and campaign contributions,” Welch concluded. “So he gets that.”

Welch left the session optimistic, but with eyes wide open. “The proof will be, do we get a bill passed?” he said. “But bottom line, our only chance to succeed is to have his support.”

At the end of the meeting, Trump handed Welch’s and Cummings’ bill to Secretary Price with instructions to provide an official response. One hopes that Price didn’t find a convenient shredder on his way out of the Oval Office.


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Friday, March 3, 2017

Leahy: Trump Will Take 'Machete' to Environmental Programs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 6:10 PM

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday
President Donald Trump is "gonna take a machete to essential investments in our communities," declared U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) during an event Friday in Burlington.

Trump has yet to unveil his budget blueprint — that is scheduled for March 16 — but he could cut $54 billion across federal agencies, including a quarter of the Environmental Protection Agency's funding and 20 percent of its staff.

Vermont's senior senator stood Friday with more than a dozen of the state's environmental leaders at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on the Burlington waterfront and detailed just how devastating such cuts could be for the Green Mountain State.

"The Trump administration's plan for the EPA would eliminate funding for Lake Champlain," Leahy told the crowd.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Welch, Sanders Call for Sessions to Resign

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 2:56 PM

Vermont’s congressional delegation and their spouses - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Vermont’s congressional delegation and their spouses
Two of Vermont’s three members of Congress have called for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign for failing to disclose during sworn testimony his pre-election contacts with Russian officials.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday both called for Sessions to step down. Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), however, stopped short of calling for Sessions’ departure. He said instead that it’s “crystal clear” Sessions must recuse himself from any investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.

The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that Sessions met at least twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States last year, despite saying otherwise in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing in January.

In a written statement, Sanders called it “deeply disturbing” that Sessions “falsely denied having met with the Russian ambassador,” and concluded that Sessions must resign and a special prosecutor be appointed to conduct an impartial investigation.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

After White House Visit, Scott Describes Trump as Cordial

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 6:19 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and his wife, Diana, at the White House - COURTESY OF THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy of the governor's office
  • Gov. Phil Scott and his wife, Diana, at the White House
When Gov. Phil Scott went to the White House for dinner Sunday night, there was no snub from the Donald. There was no overt sneer over the fact that Vermont’s Republican governor had once called the man who went on to become president “offensive.”

“He was cordial to everyone,” Scott said of President Donald Trump, who hosted the nation’s governors at a state dinner.

Like the other governors and their spouses, Scott and his wife, Diana, were introduced to the president and first lady Melania Trump. She was making a rare White House appearance for the event.

“You had your picture taken and then you were shuffled off to another room,” Scott said Monday in a phone interview as he prepared to return to Vermont from a four-day National Governors Association meeting that included two White House events. “I never met him one-on-one.”

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Welch Will Bring an Iraqi Immigrant to Trump Speech

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 5:35 PM

Rep. Peter Welch, left, with Ahmed Alsaeedi - COURTESY: OFFICE OF REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT.)
  • Courtesy: Office of Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.)
  • Rep. Peter Welch, left, with Ahmed Alsaeedi
Rather than take a family member to President Donald Trump’s first congressional address Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is bringing Ahmed Alsaeedi of Burlington, an Iraqi man who immigrated to the United States after working for the U.S. as an interpreter during the Iraq War.

A number of Democratic congressmen are bringing immigrants and foreigners as their plus-ones to protest the president’s executive order on immigration.

Trump’s order — stayed by a federal judge — sought to bar refugees and residents of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, from entering the U.S. Initially, the ban applied to Iraqi interpreters, who sometimes receive what are known as Special Immigrant Visas, but the Trump administration later amended the order to exclude that particular program.

Alsaeedi came to the U.S. with a Special Immigrant Visa.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Scott 'Resistant' to Using Vermont Guard for Immigration Roundup

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 2:39 PM

Gov. Phil Scott speaks last week about a bill to defy President Donald Trump’s immigration order as Attorney General T.J. Donovan and others listen. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Gov. Phil Scott speaks last week about a bill to defy President Donald Trump’s immigration order as Attorney General T.J. Donovan and others listen.
Following a report that President Donald Trump has considered deploying the National Guard to detain undocumented immigrants, Gov. Phil Scott told reporters Friday that, in Vermont, he would "be resistant to use military force to deport."

The Associated Press reported earlier Friday that a draft proposal from the administration asked governors in 11 states — not including Vermont — to deploy Guard members for this purpose. The Trump administration declined to comment before the story's publication, but White House press secretary Sean Spicer later called the AP report "100 percent not true."

Asked during his weekly press conference how he'd respond if Vermont were added to the list of states, Scott responded with characteristic caution.

"I would seek advice from general counsel as well as the attorney general," he said.

In response to further questioning from reporters, the Republican governor said he would be "resistant" to the proposal. "Well, I don’t want us to become militant," he said, adding, "We need, actually, more citizens in Vermont."

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Opinion
Walters: Sanders Alums Back Purity Test for Senate Dems

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 1:34 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking outside his Burlington home in August 2016. - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking outside his Burlington home in August 2016.
Updated at 3:31 p.m. to reflect additional confirmation votes.

Former staffers of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign have founded a new group aiming to hold Democrats’ feet to the progressive fire.

WeWillReplaceYou.org wants U.S. senators to “do everything [they] can to Resist Trump.” Organizers see Democratic efforts as “not nearly … enough,” and they vow to raise up primary challengers for any who fail to meet their expectations. The group promises that it “won’t accept anything less than full opposition” to President Trump’s administration.

By its own definition of “full opposition,” there is not a single member of the Democratic caucus who comes close to meeting its criteria. Not one. Including Sanders himself.

The group is run by activists from environmental, racial-equality and immigrants’ rights organizations. Two belonged to the Sanders orbit: Claire Sandberg, former digital organizing director for his presidential campaign, and Kenneth Pennington, a former Sanders Senate and campaign staffer — and former digital director for Our Revolution, Sanders’ post-campaign advocacy organization. At least three other organizers are connected to 350.org, the climate-change activist movement founded by Vermont environmentalist Bill McKibben.

“Our message to Democrats is pretty straightforward: Fight Trump or we’ll find someone who will,” Sandberg told NBC News. “Our goal is not [to] primary every single Democratic member of Congress. It’s to push Democrats who are there to do better.”

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