Vt. delegation absorbs historic election

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(Host) Vermont’s congressional delegation took a moment Wednesday to absorb the historic election of Barack Obama.

But Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch say the moment for reflection will quickly pass, as the new administration and Congress face some steep challenges.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Senator Leahy admits to feeling giddy.

He’s eager, he says, to invite the new president to visit Vermont, something President Bush hasn’t done in his years in the White House.

(Leahy) "Oh, yes, I will. Yes I will. I will, I will, I will, I will and I already have."

(Sneyd) But Leahy, Sanders and Welch also are eager to get down to work on Obama’s agenda.

Sanders says with the nation embroiled in two wars and the economy in distress, Washington will have to be bold.

(Sanders) "This is a time for big ideas. The American people have spoken clearly. The mantra of this campaign was change. And change is what we need to bring about."

(Host) But what kind of change? Sanders says he hopes that will be decided by the people who mobilized behind Obama’s campaign.

He believes the public’s intense interest in the campaign can be harnessed to generate an equal commitment to public service.

But, like his colleagues, Sanders warns about setting expectations too high.

(Sanders) "If you listen closely to what Barack Obama has been saying throughout his campaign, he said it is not going to be easy. That’s exactly the term that he used. We’re not going to be able to bring the change that we want overnight. That’s absolutely right."

(Sneyd) Congressman Welch says the public has made its priorities clear: helping the middle class, adopting a new energy policy, expanding health care coverage to everyone.

(Welch) "They want us to do politics a different way. You saw that in the Obama speech. What Barack Obama understands in a democracy is that there are winners. You have an election, the people decide. But in a democracy, it’s not winner take all. It’s all of us working together to make change."

(Sneyd) For all their interest in the big issues, Vermont’s delegation in Washington can’t help but be struck by America’s moment of history.

Leahy says the country will never be the same. And neither, he says, will his family.

(Leahy) "For Marcelle and myself it’s a very deeply personal one. We have five grandchildren. Three are white, two are black. And I have to think their world will be different."

(Sneyd) Like so many of his constituents, Leahy says, he finds his emotions on a roller coaster. But it is, he says, a joyful ride.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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