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Protestors camp out in Welch’s congressional office

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted March 20, 2007

Photo: Tricia Coates (center in doorway), state director for Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, talks to about two dozen protestors in the congressman's Burlington office.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. to reflect comments from Rep. Peter Welch to the protestors.

BURLINGTON — Antiwar activists from around Vermont camped out in the Burlington office of Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, Wednesday, hoping to urge him to vote against further funding of the Iraq War.

The House is slated to vote on supplemental spending bill tomorrow. The bill would provide funding for ongoing support of the war, but would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet, and set a deadline of when troops would leave the country.

For those occupying Welch’s office on Wednesday, that’s not good enough.

“We have only one demand, and that is for him to vote against any more money for the prosecution of this war,” said Boots Wardinski, one of the protest organizers. “The supplemental bill they are voting on will just continue to fund this war.”

Wardinski said several protestors were prepared to stay in Welch’s office beyond office hours to make their point and persuade him to vote against the budget item.

Welch’s state director — Tricia Coates — met briefly with protestors around 2 p.m. to let them know that Welch would be calling in to speak with them within two hours.

“He’s on the floor of the House right now in a series of consecutive votes,” Coates said. “But, you’re welcome to stay here while we have him call in.”

Welch did call in around 3:30 p.m. and spent more than 30 minutes on the phone with the protestors, said Andrew Savage, Welch's spokesman.

Welch told the group that he shares their sense of urgency on ending the war, Savage said, and said Pres. George W. Bush is threatening a veto because it takes away his "blank check" and includes a date certain to end the war.

Welch also said he if had a chance to write the bill it would inlcude language that mirrors a bill by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-CA. Woolsey's bill is one that is largely lauded by antiwar activists because it redirects money from the occupation to include reconstruction and reparations, and pulls troops out within six months of its passage. Welch did sign on to this bill.

Several people read the names of Iraqis killed in the war while waiting for Welch to call. Others talked quietly to each other in the office, or in the adjoining hall.

Activists from around Vermont — including as far away as Brattleboro — sat in chairs and on the floor in Welch’s Vermont office. Dennis Morrisseau, who ran against Welch under the “Impeach Bush Now” label in the 2006 elections was also among those in the crowd, as was Jane Newton, who was the Liberty Union candidate for Congress.

In an e-mail to campaign supporters early Wednesday Welch said, “This bill prescribes in law that the combat troops leave Iraq no later than September 1, 2008 or earlier if specific benchmarks are not met by the President and Iraq. This binding legislation provides a clear path to end the war, rather than continue our open-ended involvement.”

Welch told supporters that ending the Iraq war continues to be his “top priority,” noting that he has supported several measures that would force an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

During the campaign, Welch consistently told Vermonters that he supported troop withdrawal, claiming that they should be out of Iraq by the end of 2007, if not sooner. He has also opposed the establishment of permanent bases in the country.

Welch told the Guardian earlier this month that crafting a unified position among Democrats to withdraw troops was proving difficult.

“My preference would be that we make it clear that we are going to end the war, set a date and the money we spend in the budget is about redeployment and departure rather than escalation and continuation of the conflict,” said Welch in a March 1 interview. “This is a civil war and it’s not the responsibility of the American military or the burden of the American taxpayer to be in the middle of it.”

Welch said he is arguing for an aggressive move to fund political and diplomatic efforts rather than a military one.

“Everyone wants to support the troops, and I believe, as do many others, that we need to use the budget as a way to bring them home but others are still apprehensive about using the power of the purse,” Welch said at the time.