Senator Merkley’s Town Hall by Addie Greene
With Paul Ryan’s withdrawal of the “Trumpcare” bill on Friday, Sen. Jeff Merkley told his Medford town hall audience Saturday that Congress’s task now is “to fight the undermining of the Affordable Care Act.” The crowd attending the meeting at South Medford High School gave Merkley several standing ovations.
Oregon’s junior senator said health care is “fundamental to our quality of life, and there should be no discrimination in our health care system.” He stressed the need for access for all and security from the threat of bankruptcy following a medical emergency. He said, “We worked very hard to make the public option an alternative as part of the exchanges.”
Of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, Merkley said, “We must partner with other nations to put Russia on ice—never to interfere again” in other nations’ elections. He called for a special prosecutor and cited the 36 copyrights issued by China to the Trump Organization following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to that country. Merkley called this a “tangled, ugly, unconstitutional web of conflicts of interest” and a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
Merkley called Donald Trump’s accusation that President Obama wiretapped him “the biggest whopper of them all.” He noted that he was surprised the Wall Street Journal, in an editorial, likened Trump’s falsehoods to the town drunk clinging to his bottle. He called the press a “bulwark” of our democracy.
Of the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, Merkley said, “This seat was effectively stolen from one president. I propose that the president nominate Merrick Garland.”
“The Koch brothers basically financed the current majority in the Senate,” Merkley said. “We must get rid of dark money in our elections.”
When asked by an audience member how we can prevent another election of a president who loses the popular vote, Merkley cited the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and said that legislation is moving through the Oregon Legislature.
He called Trump’s budget “scary” and said it “puts rural America last,” citing cuts in infrastructure and programs like Meals on Wheels. He pointed out that the budget from May-September of this year still must be legislated.
“People are raising their voices at a level we haven’t seen in decades,” Merkley said, and urged one questioner to “stay engaged, consider running for office, and get involved with the Neighborhood Food Project.”
Of the LNG Jordan Cove pipeline project, Merkley said, “Everyone here is going to hate me, but Coos Bay should have every chance to make its case,” but there should be absolutely no eminent domain abrogations of property rights. He suggested that instead we “transform our energy system from fossil fuels.” At the Paris climate talks, he said, “We were asking Europeans to forego the use of coal and we were not giving up ours.” “We can create good-paying jobs in renewables,” he said.
Another audience member asked about security for undocumented residents, and Merkley mentioned Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows “Dreamers” (young people under 30 brought to this country as children) to apply for green cards and an eventual path to citizenship. He said the “agricultural world and the restaurant world” would be crippled if there were no immigrants to fill their jobs. He stressed the importance of not creating a “permanent underclass” by making outlaws of immigrants.
“We are in a global knowledge economy,” Merkley said. “We need more resources for our children” so that they can compete. He recalled his father telling him, growing up in Roseburg and Myrtle Creek, “’Here in America you go in that schoolhouse door and work hard and you can do just about anything.’ Let’s have strong public schools.”
Merkley closed by saying, “We have to respond as citizens to put America back on track.”