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On Prescription Drug Prices, Welch Finds Common Ground With Trump

Toby Talbot
AP File
Rep. Peter Welch says President Donald Trump shares his concern that prescription drug prices in the U.S. are too high, citing much lower prices for similar drugs in other countries.

President Donald Trump doesn’t have many allies on the political left, but on one issue Democratic Rep. Peter Welch says he sees Trump as a well-informed and energetic ally.

In a March 8 meeting at the White House, Welch says that he and fellow Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland spoke with Trump about the cost of prescription drugs in the United States.

“The president began talking about incredible rip-off prices that he thinks the pharmaceutical companies are charging the American people, and he totally gets it that the same drugs elsewhere cost a lot less,” Welch said.

The meeting made Welch hopeful, he said, about bipartisan action to control the cost of prescription drugs – in part because Trump seemed to have something in common with a politician Welch is more familiar with.

“It was like I was talking to Bernie Sanders,” Welch said of Trump. “He said 'They [pharmaceutical companies] are against drug importation, but a lot of companies manufacture their drugs abroad.' And he thought it wouldn't be a big deal to make certain that there are safety standards so that if we could import safe prescriptions at a better price it'd be fine.”

"It was like I was talking to Bernie Sanders." — Rep. Peter Welch, on meeting Trump about drug prices

Welch said Trump seemed to be knowledgeable on the issue.

“He was saying all the things, and showing the knowledge, that gives me some hope that we might ultimately be successful,” Welch said.

The Vermont congressman said his meeting with Trump was unlike White House visits during previous administrations – Welch said there weren’t White House staffers in the oval office meeting, and it had a more informal feel than past visits. There was no official photo of the meeting, and the conversation took place across the president’s desk, not in the seating arrangement used for oval office photo ops.

“When we went with President Trump it was very casual,” Welch said on Vermont Edition Friday. “He was the only person in the Oval Office. We didn’t sit in those ceremonial chairs, you know, the couch. He sat behind the desk and we sat in straight-backed chairs on the other side of the desk, and it was very informal. He was extremely easy to talk to, and as I say our topic was something that Elijah [Cummings] and I have been working on for 10 years, really. So what I saw was the president was engaged in this.”

The fact that Trump was the only one in the office when Welch arrived was atypical, Welch said.

“That’s very unusual,” he said. “If you’re dealing with … Gov. [Phil] Scott, let’s say, or any executive, they would normally have staff there to take notes of what the discussion was and particularly of any statements the president made so there could be proper follow-through, so it’s a different style than I’ve seen before.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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