Before a crowd of over 20 University of New Hampshire students and local community members, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld led a policy discussion and mini-rally inside the Huddleston Hall ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 6 p.m., becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to visit the Durham campus in the 2020 election season.
The event, co-sponsored by the Carsey School of Public Policy and the Campus Living Association and part of the former’s 2020 Presidential Primary Series, saw Weld, who ran as Gary Johnson’s running mate and part of the Libertarian Party in 2016, share his thoughts on the recent and growing controversy surrounding potential impeachment inquiries against President Donald Trump. Weld also took time to answer audience questions surrounding his stance on topics like climate change, immigration and student debt, among others.
Weld, born in Smithtown, NY, began his professional career as a lawyer in the early 1970s, but was quickly recruited to become a staffer in Washington amidst the impeachment of President Richard Nixon in 1974. On his first day, Weld found himself alone at his job, save for one other staffer in the office – Hillary Rodham. That same day, his supervisor John Door told him and Rodham to create a memo for the following Tuesday morning that answered the question of “what constitutes grounds for impeachment and removal of a president under the Constitution?”
And after three months of over 40 lawyers “going blind” trying to seek the answer in lawbooks, Weld recalled their realization of how the impeachment process most heavily rested in the aftermath of the American Revolution, specifically the drafting of the Constitution itself and its impeachment clause.
The item, listed under Article II, section 4, reads that the president, vice president and all other “civil Officers” on the national level “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Weld detailed how the House of Representatives holds the power to formally accuse the president or other official of “high crimes,” while the Senate is the only body of the two that can lead a vote on whether to remove the official from their position, a move only possible with a two-thirds vote favoring the ouster.
The candidate told attendees that the clause came about after the colonists expressed wariness over the concept of another strong “executive” leading their government – especially after 13 years of British rule under King George III – but also sought a more unifying, central governing body than the previous Articles of Confederation provided, which Weld said further isolated the states and allowed them to maintain its own coinage due to the “toothless” nature of its federal level.
“So, [the framers] had to explain to the people voting on the Constitution to ratify it that there was this power of removal which was the answer to the question, ‘have you brought us another king? Have you brought us another hereditary monarch,’” he said. “And they said, ‘no! This is why we put that power in there.’ And that ultimately carried the day, but it was not an afterthought; it was a clause of central importance to the adoption of the Constitution.”
Returning to the Nixon case, Weld said the 50-page memo he and Rodham drafted suggested that the framers’ two major concerns laid in “foreign interference in our affairs” and the “corruption of office by using a public office to achieve private gain,” drawing parallels to the colonists’ desire to hold a “check on the otherwise seemingly unbridled power of the president” during the nation’s conception.
Weld used his experience with Nixon’s impeachment to reflect upon the current impeachment inquires against President Trump, telling attendees that he has “never seen a clearer case for impeachment and removal than I have with the current facts that are now out there” regarding him. Weld cited the Mueller Report as an example, which detailed allegations of Trump ordering his director of national intelligence to, per Weld, “file a phony document” and using other officials in the hopes of throwing off investigators looking into claims of obstruction of justice and foreign interference in the 2016 election against him.
“This is a man who is heedless of any restraint of any kind on his behavior, [and] has difficulty conforming his conduct to the requirements of law,” he said. “As a private businessman, many of his colleagues from business in New York have said that he regarded law as a ‘nuisance’ and something to be overcome with fleets of high-priced lawyers, who are generally successful with getting away with that. So, he has an attitude which is the opposite of a government of laws and not of men.”
In terms of the future, Weld, despite acknowledging that impeachment would only remove Trump from office with no further punishment, said that recent polls indicating growing support for the president’s removal from office, such as one from The Economist that listed 51 percent in favor of Trump’s exit, have the power to put Republican senators in the spotlight and potentially support impeachment, with the former governor stating that 20 Republicans in the upper chamber would have to break with Trump in order to make impeachment possible.
“…if a secret ballot were held, it would be 35 votes to remove [Trump],” Weld said as he referenced a recent observation made by former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). “And, of course, in the Senate, it’s not a secret ballot; it’s there for the whole world to see. And the reason these Republican senators, many of whom…are not fond of the position they’ve been put in by the president, they’re under a yolk – and shame on them – but they’re arrestive under that yolk, and they’d rather it weren’t there. And if they thought there was a chance of being able to do this anonymously, I’d think he’d [Trump] be out in a week.”
Weld’s opening remarks also included his role as the vice-presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party and Gary Johnson’s 2016 presidential ticket, which ran on a mix of fiscal conservatism and more liberal stances on social issues and was thought by the ticket at the time to be a successful “six-lane highway up the middle.” Following an election that tripled Libertarian turnout but failed to garner a significant electoral vote, Weld’s experience led him to call for a “third option” akin to the Democrat and Republican parties, especially in what he called a “fascinating political season” and “unlike anything I have seen before given the acrimony and the bitterness between the two parties.”
The remaining half-hour of the event saw Weld answering questions about his platform and stances on several major issues. When asked by The New Hampshire about his stance on tackling student debt, for instance, the candidate responded that he would, among other actions, repeal an existing federal law that bars student debt from being renegotiated, adding that it is the only type of debt “in the world” that cannot not be renegotiated.
Weld, a father of three millennial students facing debt themselves, added that he favored debt forgiveness on a “tax-free basis” for students who pay their loan payments consistently over a set period – listing 15-20 years as an example – as well as extra forgiveness for students going into public service careers for a set period of time because “they’re creating a benefit for society…”
“Congress might as well put out a sign saying, ‘we hate students,’” he said of the government’s present handling of the crisis. “…it’s a sign of the times that Congress tends to stick it to vulnerable populations.”
On the topic of climate, Weld advocated for alternative forms of energy like hydro energy from sources like rivers and dams in the Northeast and a push for “full-cycle” nuclear energy nationwide. Of the latter, he said that the latest nuclear energy plants have the power to “consume their own waste” and emit significantly less than other sources like fossil fuels.
Weld called nuclear energy a “huge contributor” to alternative energy production around the world, stressing that events like 2011’s Fukushima disaster and its years-long aftermath should not be representative of nuclear energy on the whole.
Regarding immigration, Weld expressed opposition against Trump’s border wall in favor of keeping the peace at the U.S.-Mexican border in the form of additional judges, more agents at the border and newer technologies like drones for improved spotting. He also showed support for foreign aid for other countries, especially toward Central American nations like Honduras and Guatemala, fighting back against criticisms that it represents “wasted money.”
The candidate also touched upon healthcare, where he called the situation regarding major pharmaceutical companies “so irrational” and supported one’s ability to negotiate prescription drug prices; when asked about Medicare-for-all, however, Weld acknowledged his lack of a full understanding of the plan pushed by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other Democrat candidates calling his efforts to understand the plan a “work in progress.”
Despite the smaller crowd compared to previous entries in the series, attendees like first-year health sciences major Matt Looney gave Weld’s appearance in Durham high marks; specifically, Looney told The New Hampshire that he attended Tuesday’s event due to his family’s previous support for Weld in the 2016 election.
Looney said that he believes Weld stands a “fair chance” against Trump in the Republican primary, explaining that he feels that Trump “rules more out of fear and hate” compared to Weld’s more traditional conservative politics. He added that, with the influx of Democrat candidates visiting UNH and other campuses this election season, the ability to hear a different perspective can be equally worthwhile.
“I believe that it’s important for students to hear from Republican candidates because new voters, college students are very more likely to vote Democratic in elections, but I believe that hearing from Republicans is a great experience to hear the other side of the argument,” Looney said.