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U.S. Politics

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bernie Sanders Brings His Message to Ben & Jerry's St. Albans Plant

Posted By on Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 5:22 PM

Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the Ben & Jerry's plant in St. Albans. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at the Ben & Jerry's plant in St. Albans.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took his economic populist message to the Ben & Jerry's plant in St. Albans on Friday, telling employees that the company is a model of corporate responsibility.

"This company has had an impact in getting the word out to other corporations in Vermont and America that the bottom line is not enough," Sanders told a crowd of 100 workers employed by a company known for its philanthropic and social justice efforts.

In a 40-minute speech and question-and-answer session, Sanders hammered home familiar campaign themes and went after President Donald Trump, saying the Republican has strayed from his campaign promise to look out for working-class Americans.

"If you follow everything he's been doing, it's exactly the opposite," Sanders said.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Walters: No, Bernie's Not Running (Yet)

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 2:40 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders - FILE: JOHN WALTERS
  • File: John Walters
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
Vermont Public Radio led off its Wednesday afternoon newscast with a bit of a bombshell: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is running for reelection in 2018!

Wow, I thought. Did Bernie make an announcement that I missed? Did VPR have some red-hot inside information?

Well, no. Sanders has not, in fact, declared his intentions for 2018 or any other year, for that matter.

VPR's report, a condensed version of a piece by veteran journalist Bob Kinzel, was based entirely on the text of an email sent Tuesday by the Sanders campaign. The email announced a multistate tour by Sanders during the current Congressional recess. It wrapped up with a fundraising pitch: "Please make a $27 contribution to my reelection campaign to help fund this national tour."

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Leahy Changes Tune, Backs Gorsuch Filibuster

Posted By on Mon, Apr 3, 2017 at 5:11 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy questions Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. - RON SACHS / CNP VIA AP
  • Ron Sachs / CNP via AP
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy questions Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did an about-face Monday and joined his caucus in an attempt to halt a Senate vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Leahy had been clear that he opposes Gorsuch’s ascendancy to the court. What’s new is his support for the parliamentary move to try to stop the Senate from voting on President Donald Trump’s nominee.

“I am not inclined to filibuster,” Leahy told VTDigger.org last week, “even though I’m not inclined to vote for him.”

He said otherwise during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. “I will not support advancing this nomination,” Leahy declared — which is to say he now is inclined to filibuster.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Walters: Leahy, Sanders & Welch Take Hardwick By Storm

Posted By on Sun, Mar 26, 2017 at 6:56 AM

Sen. Patrick Leahy in Hardwick on Saturday - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy in Hardwick on Saturday
The line of the day, surprisingly, didn’t come from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) but from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“I am not going to vote for $25 billion for a dumb-ass wall!” he thundered, referring to President Donald Trump’s proposed barrier along the United States’ southern border. The crowd leaped to its feet and roared.

It was that kind of an afternoon in the gymnasium at Hardwick’s Hazen Union High School, an unlikely venue for a gathering of Vermont’s entire congressional delegation. After all, we’re talking about a town of 3,000 that’s, honestly, kind of hard to get to. Worth the effort, but an unlikely gathering place for top-shelf national politicos.

The Saturday event was an all-out pep rally for the progressive cause, headlined by Leahy, Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.). If there were any Republicans in the audience, they kept it on the down low.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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
  • 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

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

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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