Senator Merkley’s Town Hall
By Addie Greene for the Ashland Chronicle
“We are in an extremely dangerous time,” Sen. Jeff Merkley told his Ashland town hall audience Friday, “with a chance of significant escalation in the Middle East. Getting rid of Saddam actually helped Iran,” he said.
“It makes no sense to be hobnobbing with dictators instead of supporting our alliances.”
When asked “what is your plan to get your (Congress’s) power back?” Merkley cited the 2001-2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force and said both parties are to blame for not standing up to the executive branch and upholding the Constitution. In 2017 members of the House Appropriations Committee approved Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to end the 2001 authorization within 240 days, but the amendment was removed from the legislation by the House Rules Committee.
When asked by Alan Journet if the president is taking us into war as a diversion from impeachment, Merkley said he would have to see the classified reports about the death of Qasem Soleimani before commenting.
Merkley said he was the first member of Congress to go to the Mexican border and see children in 30×30 cages. “They were bringing families in through the side door and separating the children from their parents.” At the facility in Brownsville, Texas, Border Patrol employees called the police on Merkley when he tried to enter the building. “Refugees now are required to have health insurance,” he said. “People need to be treated with respect and decency. The child separation policy is morally wrong.”
“The child separation policy is continuing,” he said, with proposals to undo Flores and child prisons not covered by Flores—15,000 children being held. “It is incumbent on us to stop it. Symbolically, Lady Liberty’s torch has been stomped out.”
Responding to Alex Webb’s question about the prospects for carbon policy, Merkley said Republicans favored climate action before the Citizens United decision but afterwards opposed it, presumably because their big-time (Citizens United) donors opposed it. “The amount of carbon in my lungs is 33% greater than it was when I was born,” Merkley said. “We’ve got to have a partnership that crosses party lines” to deal with this issue.
One speaker, who said he lost five friends in Afghanistan and Iraq, was incensed at what he called the trashing of Tulsi Gabbard on social media. He blamed the attack on Hillary Clinton and said, “That is wrong. I’ve never heard the democratic leadership” come to Gabbard’s defense. “It is absolutely wrong—a smear tactic—to attack people in this way.” He was referring to an October 17, 2019 podcast in which Clinton accused Gabbard of being a “favorite of the Russians.” Merkley said he was unfamiliar with the podcast and remarked, “I’ve seen so much strategy of division. We thrive by working together.”
Asked about surveillance, Merkley said, “I can’t speak to the full extent of surveillance, but it’s not just the government.” American Airlines has begun using facial recognition at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, although travelers can opt out. “How do we control facial recognition here?” he asked. He pointed to the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang Province as the “largest surveillance in the world.”
Merkley pointed to the For the People Act, passed by the House on March 8, 2019 but now bottled up in the Senate, as our best hope of thwarting corruption in government. “We are reaching a tipping point of the rich in power” he warned, beyond which it will be too late to take back the people’s power. “We need a dramatically engaged citizenry to challenge the power of concentrated money in politics.”