Listen: Capitol Beat 6-30-15, the Sanders Surge edition


Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman discuss O’Gorman’s weekend swing through New Hampshire on the Bernie Sanders campaign trail.

Sanders pushes for jobs and education for young Americans

ROCHESTER, N.H. – Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is pushing a message of education and employment as a means to improve life for young Americans.

During his two-day weekend campaign swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, the independent U.S. senator has repeatedly emphasized the dire state of unemployment for young Americans, citing statistics stating 31 percent of white Americans ages 17 to 20 are without work.

For young minorities, the unemployment numbers are more dire, with 36 percent of Hispanics and 51 percent of African-Americans ages 17 to 20 out of work.

During a campaign stop in Rochester, Sanders laid some of the blame on the exporting of American jobs.

“The never-ending greed of the billionaire class must end, or they will destroy this country,” Sanders said. “They can’t send our jobs to China and Vietnam while millions of people are looking for jobs here in America.”

On the jobs front, Sanders has introduced legislation that would spend $5.5 million for state and local governments to employ one million Americans ages 16 to 24. And citing recent poll results in the Wall Street Journal showing support for the idea, Sanders is also pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

On an even larger scale, Sanders is proposing spending $1 trillion over five years to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure, which he says would employ 13 million people.

And at campaign stops from Nashua Community College to Oyster River High School in Durham, Sanders has proposed making public higher education free.

The idea of not amassing tens of thousands of dollars in student debt is appealing to Doreen Duggan, of Hopkinton, a mother of five whose children rage from 6 years old to 15 years old.

“But it’s not just good for me. His ideas are good for this country,” said Duggan, who saw Sanders three times Saturday and who, with her family, wore T-shirts with letters that together spelled “Bernie.”

On Sunday, Mark King, of Nashua, was also listening to Sanders speak for the second day in a row.

“He’s evidence based. He’s fact based. He has integrity. It’s revolutionary,” King said.

The weekend tour of New Hampshire – where a recent poll from CNN and WMUR shows Sanders trailing Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton by only 8 points – drew supporters from Massachusetts.

“I would follow Bernie to the Moon. He represents us. He represents the other 99 percent,” said Chris Peletier, of Newburyport, Mass. “I hope he can win the nomination, because without him, I think this country’s doomed.”

Sanders says he will win the presidency

Sen. Bernie Sanders told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview Sunday on “This Week” that he will win the Iowa Caucus, New Hampshire primary, Democratic nomination for president and, ultimately, the presidency. Watch below:

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Sanders campaign rolls through New Hampshire

NASHUA – Bernie Sanders is riding a wave of populist support as he campaigns his way through New Hampshire this weekend.

The independent U.S. senator from Vermont is only eight points behind Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, according to a new poll from CNN and WMUR, which found 35 percent of respondents supporting Sanders, compared with 43 percent for Clinton.

The Sanders campaign is looking to capitalize on the recent surge in the polls with campaign stops ranging from a large rally at Nashua Community College to a small house party in the rural town of Bow.

In Nashua, Sanders’ message calling for the American populace to rise up and seize control of national politics from the nation’s billionaires was one the resonated with the crowd of roughly 500, who repeatedly rose to their feet in applause, such as when he promised that any judicial nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court would have to be willing to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited political contributions.

And judging by the crowd reaction, each of Sanders’ talking points – from women’s reproductive rights and the environment to campaign finance reform and the idea of free public higher education – struck different segments of the crowd, with pockets of supporters rising to show their support for each topic.

Galvanizing the crowd, however, was Sanders’ call for a grass-roots movement to make any meaningful change.

“There is no way we will move an agenda forward that is good for families and good for the middle class unless there is a mass movement of people who say, enough is enough,” Sanders told the crowd. “I will need your support the day after the election as much as I will need it before the election.”

Following the speech, members of the crowd discussed why they supported Sanders.

“I like the fact he is calling for economic equality,” said Atlant Schmidt, of Nashua. “The wealthy have gotten all the breaks for the last 20 years, and that’s not the American way.”

John Zhao, also of Nashua, said he was attracted by what he called the “values” being espoused by Sanders.

“This has been a long time coming, and it’s long overdue, in terms of dealing with income inequality,” Zhao said.

Both Schmidt and Zhao said they believe Sanders will be able to maintain the early momentum he has gathered in the 2016 presidential race.

“I think his message is so urgent for this country,” Schmidt said. “He is saying the right things, and I think that will sustain his momentum.”

“He’s not a flavor-of-the-month candidate,” Zhao said. “He has the courage and the integrity to back it up.”

Sanders’ rapid rise brings challenges, opportunities

MONTPELIER — With his poll numbers surging and crowd sizes growing, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is on the rise. The sudden spike in interest from both voters and media presents opportunities and challenges, however, that the nascent campaign must now be nimble enough to respond to.

A CNN poll released last week pegged Sanders’ support at 35 percent in New Hampshire, just 8 points behind the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s a remarkable rise for Sanders, the 73-year-old self-described democratic socialist. Most political observers did not expect Sanders to pose a serious threat to Clinton, and certainly not this early in the primary process.

In Denver last weekend more than 5,000 supporters filled the gymnasium at the University of Colorado while an overflow group watched on screens outside. Large crowds have also gathered in New Hampshire, Iowa and Minneapolis to hear Sanders’ populist stump speech and are embracing his economic message.

But with such sudden and intense interest comes potential pitfalls.

Bob Rogan, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and the former deputy campaign manager on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2003 and 2004, said there are significant challenges and pressures on a campaign when it suddenly catches fire. Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont, vaulted to the front of the Democratic primary pack in 2004, largely as a result of his opposition to the Iraq war, before fizzling in the Iowa caucus and dropping out of the race.

“It’s a bit like catching a tiger by the tail. The campaign is constantly trying to catch up to the candidate. You are excited about the crowds but the crowds create organizational and staffing demands on the campaign. The struggle is when there is a gap between the campaign’s capacity and the candidate’s trajectory,” Rogan said.

Perhaps nobody knows the challenges better than Dean himself.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on the cover of Time in 2003.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on the cover of Time in 2003.

“The problems for me arose coming from a base of 600,000 people. My rating in the polls surpassed all of the things that you have to do to keep up,” Dean said. “The biggest problem we had was getting the campaign organization ramped up to the degree that someone like John Kerry and Dick Gephardt would have with all that service in Washington.”

Sanders’ team is attempting to beef up its organization to match the blossoming interest. It recently several more staffers in Iowa and opened its first campaign office in Des Moines. Efforts to boost the organization are now focused on the Granite State, where Sanders’ poll numbers are even stronger, spokesman Michael Briggs said.

“As Bernie has said many times, other campaigns are going to have more resources to do more things, but we’re a scrappy operation that’s making the best of an increasingly interesting and good situation,” he said. “Are we going to need more people as this thing grows? Yeah. Are we going to need to figure out better ways to help people who want to help him? Yes, and we’re working on that.”

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Welch declines bid for governor

This story was updated at 12:35 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Congressman Peter Welch said Friday he will seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2016, ending speculation that he might instead return to Vermont and run for governor.

Welch, a Democrat, openly flirted with the notion of running for governor after Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month he would not run for a fourth, two-year. But after two weeks of consideration, Welch said Friday that he can best serve Vermonters in Congress and would not run for the “distinct honor” of being governor.

“Congress these days is not highly regarded by the American people, but strange as it may seem, I really continue to love my job,” Welch told reporters on a conference call from Washington, D.C., Friday morning. “I’ve been here in the Tea Party Congress where it’s much tougher going, for sure, but where I’ve been able … to do things that have been a major benefit to Vermont.”

Rep. Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch

Welch, 68, has a long track record as a legislator. He served two stints in the Senate, from 1981 to 1989, and from 2001 to 2006. His time in the Vermont Senate included several terms as Senate President Pro Tem. He also sought the governorship in 1990, losing to former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling.

The fifth-term congressman touted his ability to work across the political aisle as his main reason for seeking re-election to the House. He has been effective in pushing energy efficiency initiatives alongside some Republican colleagues. He also noted major legislation signed into law during his tenure, including the federal stimulus package stemming from the Great Recession and the Affordable Care Act.

“I am beginning to see signs of change here in Congress among more of my Democratic colleagues and more of my Republican colleagues that we’ve got to get things done. We need problem solvers here. We need people that have credibility,” Welch said. “I’m in a position to do that. I’m in a position to do that because Vermonters have elected me four times to represent them in Congress. That’s a big commitment.”

Welch said he received support from Vermonters, both for seeking re-election to Congress and running for governor. Among those that reached out to him, Welch said half urged him to stay in Congress and half encouraged him to return to Vermont. Those that wanted him to run for governor cited “my bipartisan, problem-solving and practical, civil approach would be something that would be helpful,” Welch said.

The decision, he said, was devoid of politics and based on personal factors. He said he conducted no polling as he considered his future.

“I’m confident that I’m in a good place with voters,” he said. “I basically just had to make my own gut check.”

The draw of returning to Vermont is strong, Welch said, but advocating for Vermonters in Washington ultimately won.

“In all candor, I was torn by it,” he said. “I come home every week, but, wouldn’t it be better to be home every night? That was the real challenge to me. It’s just so much nicer to be in Vermont than it is in Washington. I just had to work through that, but there wasn’t, like, a tipping point or a moment.”

Welch’s decision is likely to unfreeze the decision-making process of several top-tier Democratic candidates for governor. House Speaker Shap Smith and former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne had both said they would defer to Welch if he ran for governor. A spirited Democratic Party primary is now likely.

Smith said Friday he has not yet determined his own future.

“I am seriously considering running for governor and I expect to make a decision and an announcement soon,” he said. “I had been very clear that I wasn’t going to run against Congressman Welch in a primary, so it does make things clearer and I do expected to make a decision soon whether I will run in 2016.”

House Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith

Smith said he has received “a lot of encouragement from the people I’ve talked to” to jump into the race. He said the conversation with his family is ongoing.

“I’m still talking with my family about what it will be like for me and for the family to be in the middle of a campaign. Those conversations have been good, but I think it’s important for them and for me to really understand what it means to run for governor over the next 14 months.”

In perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, he said an announcement will probably come in the form of an event, not a press release.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is also considering a run, had said Welch’s decision would have no impact on his decision.

Welch said he has no plans to back a candidate any time soon.

“I don’t even know who’s going to run,” he said. “This is going to unfold and there’s a lot of good people who are contemplating the race. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

Exchange work to continue, despite SCOTUS ruling

MONTPELIER — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Thursday ensures that some Vermonters will continue to be eligible for federal subsidies through Obamacare if the state opts to abandon Vermont Health Connect later this year.

The court upheld a major challenge to the Affordable Care Act in a 6-3 ruling Thursday, ensuring that nearly 9 million people receiving federal subsidies under the law can continue to receive them regardless of where they live. The challenge to the law contended that the subsidies were only available to states that created their own exchanges, like Vermont.

VHCThe challenge could have had major consequences in Vermont had the court ruled the other way. The state’s exchange, Vermont Health Connect, continues to face technology challenges. Some major functions that were supposed to be part of the state’s online health insurance marketplace continue to struggle.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has said the state would look to transition to the federal exchange if those functions were not working properly this fall. Vermonters will continue to receive federal subsidies in that event because of the court’s ruling Thursday.

Shumlin issued a statement Thursday after the ruling was announced saying the administration is continuing to work on Vermont Health Connect to ensure it works properly for Vermonters.

“We are making progress to deliver the services Vermonters expect through Vermont Health Connect. We have insured nearly 20,000 Vermonters who previously did not have insurance, and now Vermont has the second lowest rate of uninsured in the nation,” he said.

The state completed an upgrade to the website earlier this month to incorporate the so-called change-of-circumstance function. When fully implemented, it will allow customers to make life change to their accounts online, including marriage, death, birth of a child or a change in jobs. Another function, automated policy renewals, should be up and running this fall.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who has said he is considering a run for governor, used the ruling Thursday to call for Vermont to abandon its own exchange. Scott has been a critic of Vermont Health Connect’s challenges.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

“For 18 months, officials have dismissed repeated calls to explore alternatives to our dysfunctional exchange, saying to do so would put Vermonters at risk of losing their subsidies. Now, with today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal subsidies can be offered in both state and federal health care exchanges, that fear is eliminated, and it’s clear we must immediately explore alternatives to Vermont Health Connect,” Scott said.

Scott called for immediately looking into a regional partnership with nearby states, creating a state-federal hybrid system or simply shifting to the federal exchange.

“For far too long, Vermonters have been underserved and frustrated by this $200 million system. Now that the fear of losing subsidies is no longer a valid argument, we must find the best path to affordable, accessible health insurance for every Vermonter,” he said.

But Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, said Thursday’s ruling does not change the administration’s thinking and officials will continue to work on VHC.

“I think we’ve been clear that going to the federal exchange would still have substantial costs and complications for Vermonters. We would still need to figure out a way to deliver Vermont premium assistance because that’s not a part of the federal exchange,” Miller said.

Vermont is just one of two states that offer state-level financial assistance for customers on the exchange.

Miller said the state would still need to improve VHC even if the state moved to the federal exchange because it administers the state’s Medicaid program, including eligibility and enrollment. And, Miler said, insurance carriers in Vermont would have to devise a new integration model with the federal system.

Lawrence Miller

Lawrence Miller

“It would add substantial cost and complication. That is why we will still remain focused on the work at Vermont Health Connect and getting the level of service to what Vermonters expect,” he said.

Miller said he is glad the uncertainty brought about by the challenge has been settled.

“I’m very pleased with the decision. I think it’s the right decision,” Miller said. “The surprise really was when they took it, in my mind, and that raised a significant amount of uncertainty. If two more justices had seen it the way [Justice Antonin] Scalia (who wrote the dissenting opinion) did a lot of Americans would be having a very bad day.”

Vermont NEA endorses Sanders

MONTPELIER — The Vermont NEA, the state’s largest union, announced its endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders Wednesday in the 2016 presidential race.

“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” Vermont NEA president Martha Allen said in a statement. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

Allen said the union, which represents about 12,000 teachers throughout Vermont, has been a longtime supporter of Sanders because of his support for the working class, as well as for his views on public education and economic inequality.

logoAllen said union members will begin helping to spread Sanders’ message, particularly across the state border in New Hampshire.

“In Vermont, we’re very fortunate to have a senator who represents the middle class over the titans of Wall Street,” she said. “We believe that with Bernie in the White House, America’s working families will be able to flourish and grow. His ideas around banking reform, student debt, and public education are refreshing and exciting.”

The endorsement is the first union backing Sanders has received. The South Carolina AFL-CIO’s executive board recently passed a resolution supporting Sanders’ candidacy. The executive board will recommend that the state and national labor organization endorse him.

T.J. Donovan to run for AG

MONTPELIER — Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan says he will run for attorney general regardless of whether longtime incumbent Bill Sorrell decides to seek re-election.

Donovan, 41, came close to knocking off Sorrell in a 2012 Democratic primary for the state’s top law enforcement position. Donovan lost to Sorrell, who was appointed to the position in 1997 by former Gov. Howard Dean and has won re-election each cycle since, by just 714 votes.

Donovan opted to sit out the 2014 race and instead concentrated on his work in Chittenden County. That work has garnered plenty of attention statewide and has served, in some cases, as pilot projects for the state.

Donovan was honored Friday evening at the Vermont Democratic Party’s annual awards dinner. He did not reveal his plans at the time, however. Instead, Donovan said Monday that he “finalized in my mind over the course of the weekend” that he would run for attorney general again.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan. (Photo courtesy of VPR)

Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. (Photo courtesy of VPR)

“It just makes sense for me to put it out there and end the speculation,” he said. “I received a lot of support on Friday night. I see no reason to be coy. I figured I would put it out there that I’m running.”

Seven Days was first to report Donovan’s decision to run.

Speculation had been running wild for Donovan, and other potential candidates for various statewide offices, since Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month that he would not seek a fourth term in 2016. Many political observers wondered if Donovan would opt to run for governor. Continue reading

Sanders surging, shaping the debate

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage at a Drake University auditorium on a recent Friday to wild applause and several standing ovations before he was even introduced. It was the first of several events he held on a weekend swing through Iowa in his quixotic quest for the presidency.

“Whoa, we’ve got a lot of people here tonight!” the 73-year-old told the adoring crowd. “Sometimes our campaign has been referred to as a fringe campaign. Well, if this is fringe I would hate to see mainstream.”

Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator and a self-described democratic socialist, launched his bid for president on the shore of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt., in late May in front of thousands of supporters. Since then he has drawn impressive crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. More large crowds were expected this weekend in Nevada and Colorado.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s an auspicious start for a long-shot candidate that many expected to serve as a stalking horse for liberal candidates, perhaps for fellow liberal Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, the polished-looking former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor who is 20 years his junior.

But Sanders’ star has risen quickly, along with his most recent poll numbers. As he motored around Iowa in his rented white sedan, reporters from CNN, the Washington Post, Politico and other national organizations followed, along with a reporter from Vermont interested in how Iowans would react to the sometimes prickly man with unruly white hair and a Brooklyn accent. Continue reading

Watch: Report From Washington on Vermont PBS

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami hosted “Report From Washington” this week with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Watch the full program below.

Capitol Beat 6-17-15


Times Argus Editor Steve Pappas and Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami discuss Sen. Bernie Sanders’ weekend campaign swing through Iowa, and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s recent interview on “City Room with Steve Pappas.”


Sanders rallies supporters at Iowa union hall

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA — Hundreds packed a union hall for a town hall meeting in rural Marshalltown as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign learned of progress toward a major union endorsement in South Carolina.

The United Automobile Workers Local 893 hosted Vermont’s junior senator, where he delivered portions of his rehearsed stump speech before fielding questions from the audience. The labor-friendly crowd was receptive and enthusiastic as the 73-year-old Sanders appealed for them to join the political revolution he his hoping to incite.

“The powers of Wall Street and corporate America and the big money interests are so powerful that … the only way we defeat them … is when millions of people are united and are standing up and saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Sanders said. “If I win this thing, let me tell you, I’m gonna be back the day after the election because I can’t do it alone.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the UAW Local 893 hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the UAW Local 893 hall in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The self-described democratic socialist blasted the $7.25 per hour minimum wage, calling it “a starvation wage.” He said a Sanders administration would seek a $15 per hour minimum wage as some cities have done.

“That is exactly what we should be doing at the federal level,” he said.

Sanders also decried the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was rejected by the U.S. House on Friday, saying it would lead to further outsourcing of American jobs. Continue reading

Sanders opens first Iowa office, criticizes Clinton’s record

DES MOINES, IOWA — Sen. Bernie Sanders opened his first state office in Iowa Saturday as his campaign gears up to battle Hillary Clinton in the Hawkeye State’s February caucus.

Several dozen supporters, volunteers and the handful of staffers running the new office, just a few feet down the hall from Clinton’s Iowa office, listened to the self-described democratic socialist outline some of his differences with the former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state.

Vermont’s junior senator was critical of Clinton, who held a large kick-off rally with thousands of supporters Saturday on Roosevelt Island in New York City, for her voting record and avoiding a strong stance on some issues.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office in Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

“I voted agains the war in Iraq, and I think history will absolutely record that as being the right vote. Secretary Clinton voted for it,” Sanders said.

He hailed the U.S. House’s rejection Friday of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and faulted Clinton for not taking a clear position, saying “You can be for it, you can be against it, but I don’t understand how you can have no opinion on this issue, and sadly, that is the secretary’s position.”

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VIDEO: Sanders town hall in Des Moines

Sen. Bernie Sanders held a town hall meeting at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium on Friday, June 12, 2015. Watch video from the event below: