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Welch One Of Few Democrats To Work With House Republicans

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AP File/Toby Talbot
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Vermont's lone congressman is viewed as a conciliator who reaches out to conservative Republicans.

Congressman Peter Welch has one of the most liberal voting records in Washington. At the same time, he’s one of the few Democrats to work closely with some of the most conservative Republicans in the House.  

Welch’s work on the House Oversight Committee serves as a good example of his approach to politics. For the past year, the committee has been the scene of some extremely partisan behavior.

Republican leaders on the panel have been investigating if the I.R.S. improperly targeted the activities of some conservative non-profit political groups. And Democrats have accused the Republicans of misrepresenting the facts in this case in order to embarrass the Obama Administration.

During a hearing when Republicans were grilling the I.R.S. director, Welch was one of the few Democrats to acknowledge that it’s important to look at the activities of the agency.

"I always found Peter an honest broker, someone who actually wanted to accomplish something which isn't true of some people in politics today." - Former Gov. Jim Douglas

“That in my view is a worthy topic of investigation,” said Welch. “No group should be targeted because of their political affiliation whether they’re conservative or liberal, I totally agree with that.”

But Welch also cautioned Republicans on the panel not to jump to conclusions and assume the worst possible outcome.

“Because the whole point of accuse first and examine facts second is to attack the very legitimacy of the organization that’s being investigated.”

Welch’s collaborative style was evident 10 years ago when he served as the president of the Vermont Senate.

Former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas says Welch’s willingness to work together resulted in the passage of Act 68, Catamount Health Care, permit reform, and an effort to help Vermont’s dairy industry.

“I always found Peter an honest broker, someone who actually wanted to accomplish something which isn’t true of some people in politics today,” said Douglas. “He wanted at the end of the day to say ‘look at what we did.'”

South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy describes himself as one of the most conservative Republican members in the House. He serves on the Oversight Committee and recently was named to chair the special panel to investigate the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

I asked him if Welch made a special effort to talk with House Republicans.

“It is true, and I’ll prove it to you like any good former prosecutor,” said Gowdy. “I was at a breakfast with another Republican congressman yesterday, and the group sitting around the table just said what Democrat do you work best with ? Or is it easy to have a conversation with about policy? And the other Republican and I simultaneously said, 'Peter Welch.'”

"His ability to find that 10 or 20 percent of the issue that he may agree with someone on ... makes him very effective both in reaching across the aisle and working within his own party." - Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis, one of the original members of the House Tea Party caucus

And Gowdy says Welch’s overall approach is very unusual.

“The willingness to say, you know, I’m not just going to look at how my leadership expects me to vote, I’m going to look at the issue and if my side is wrong, he’ll say they’re wrong,” said Gowdy. “There’s a pretty small universe of people that I would describe that way out of the 435.”

Cynthia Lummis is the sole House member from Wyoming and she’s one of the original members of the House Tea Party caucus.

She describes Welch as a person who is always searching for common ground.

“His ability to find that 10 or 20 percent of the issue that he may agree with someone on and then focus on that 10 or 20 percent is what makes him very effective both in reaching across the aisle and working within his own party,” said Lummis.

The Washington political media has noticed Welch’s cooperative style.  Emma Dumain covers the House for Roll Call, a newspaper that closely follows the activities of Congress. She says Welch is one of the few Democrats who consistently tries to work with the Republicans.

“[Welch] has time and again expressed a willingness and a real interest, real enthusiasm, eagerness to work with members on the other side of the aisle,” said Dumain. “You can tell that he relishes those collaborations.”

Dumain says Welch’s approach is also unusual because he’s part of the House Democratic leadership team.

“And even though Democrats and Republicans would discourage their own from interacting with the others, Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steney Hoyer and others haven’t given him a particularly  hard time about it,” said Dumain. “I think they’re okay with him doing what he’s doing.”

Despite his collaborative style, Welch can be very critical of House Republican leaders. In recent weeks, he has strongly accused them of taking short term approaches on immigration issues and efforts to stabilize the federal Highway Trust Fund.