Sen. Jeff Merkley to Donald Trump: “Don’t Bring White Supremacists into Your Administration”

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has been adamant in his demand that President-elect Donald Trump remove former Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon from his leadership team.

Today, Merkley went further, taking that call to the floor of Congress.

In a speech on the U.S. Senate floor, Oregon’s junior senator connected the hiring of Bannon—who ran a news website that became a beacon for the white nationalist and anti-Semitic groups known as the “alt-right”—with reports of nationwide hate crimes.

“Donald Trump has a responsibility to put an end to the prejudice and put an end to the hate crimes sweeping our nation,” Merkley said. “Put the hate speech and hate acts behind you. Don’t bring white supremacists or deeply prejudiced individuals into your administration.”

Related: How Donald Trump threatens Portland—and why you must fight back.

Merkley and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have both called this week for Trump to drop Bannon as his chief White House strategist.

UPDATE, 10:38 am Friday, Nov. 18: Here is the full text of Merkley’s floor speech. Perhaps most notably, it contains a tribute to Portland’s anti-Trump protesters, and calls on Trump to listen to them.

Mr. President, our Nation has gone through a difficult, bruising Presidential election. Normally, we would be making the pivot to healing those wounds, but this election has been particularly rough, and the wounds sustained during the campaign continue to haunt our Nation. Many groups of Americans across our country are frightened for the future, of being deported, of being targeted as Muslims, of resurgent racism toward African Americans, of anti-Semitism, of losing their right to marry the person they love.
   Unfortunately, they have good reason to be afraid.
   We have seen a surge, a wave of hateful bigoted, racist, sexist attacks happening in communities across our country since the election. The divisive rhetoric and conduct of President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign over the past year and a half is responsible for unleashing this blight on our country. He has the responsibility to turn things around, to put an end to this division, and to start the healing.
   That is why, earlier today, 10 of my colleagues in the Senate joined me to send a letter to President-Elect Trump, demanding that he stand up and condemn these verbal and physical attacks occurring around this country, that he denounce his own past campaign rhetoric that gave life to so many of these acts of hate and violence, and that he exclude proponents of hatred and discrimination from the ranks of his administration, including immediately firing white supremacist Steve Bannon as his Chief Strategist.
   Here is what the text of the letter says:
   Mr. President-Elect:
   Your campaign conduct and Electoral College victory have unleashed a wave of verbal and physical assaults against our fellow Americans. In just the last six days, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented hundreds of acts of discrimination and violence toward many of the ethnic and social groups you attacked in your campaign. These attacks are absolutely unacceptable. We condemn them. We stand united with our fellow citizens.
   Unfortunately, these acts of hate have been enabled by your campaign strategy of promoting bigotry, racism, and sexism. It is the logical consequence of your campaign attacks on and discrimination aimed at Hispanics, African Americans, veterans, immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews, and individuals with disabilities. Millions of Americans see a President-elect who has chosen to knock them down rather than to lift them up. Your conduct has empowered too many Americans to act on their darkest impulses.
   This is the wrong vision for America and the wrong path for your coming Administration. We call on you to change course. We urge you, as our future President, to join us in rejecting hate and embracing respect for every ethnicity, race and gender. We urge you to join us in fighting for a nation free of discrimination, where every child has the opportunity to thrive and contribute according to his or her ability. We urge you to join us in fighting for our Constitutional vision of equality and opportunity and the vision in our Pledge of Allegiance of liberty and justice for all.
   As you assume the mantle of leadership in office, it is your responsibility to put an end to the crimes of hate and prejudice sweeping our nation. These wounds to our national citizenry are of your making. It is your responsibility to rectify the damage. You have the power as President to move beyond the hate-filled rhetoric of your campaign.
   We call on you to repudiate your campaign attacks against diverse communities of Americans.
   We call on you to address the American people and demand that all Americans end these verbal and physical attacks and replace acts of hatred with acts of kindness.
   We call on you to exclude the proponents of discrimination and hatred from the ranks of your Administration, and that includes immediately firing Steve Bannon as your Chief Strategist.
   The letter concludes:
   It is time for you to act boldly and powerfully to put the nation on a path of healing. For the sake of all Americans, we call on you to rise to the challenge.
   In addition to myself, it is signed by Senator Mazie Hirono, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Ed Markey, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Al Franken, who spoke so eloquently a few moments ago, Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Senator-Elect Chris Van Hollen, and Senator Tom Carper.
   I thank my colleagues who have appropriately said that at this moment–at this unusual moment in our history, in our time here in the 21st century–that we have a President-elect playing on hate and prejudice and bringing a white supremacist in as Chief Adviser is unacceptable.
   Some will say that President-Elect Trump cannot himself be accountable for what is happening across our country, but they are wrong. His words and his conduct are directly connected to the harassment and the physical and verbal assaults that we are seeing.
   I am going to share with you all the comments of the campaign and the acts of citizens in category after category to show how these are tied together–how, indeed, these verbal assaults and these physical assaults are motivated by and justified by the campaign of our President-elect–just to emphasize that it is time for our President-elect to take responsibility, to change course, to embrace the connectedness of our American communities, the vision of equality and opportunity in our Constitution, the vision of a nation with justice for all, and the fact that our President should be working to raise up all families–not raising up a few by tearing down the rest.
   Let’s start by looking at what Mr. Trump said about our Nation’s Latino citizens. At the start of his campaign, Mr. Trump said:
   “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best ….. they’re sending people with lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. ….. And some, I assume, are good people.”
   Later in the campaign he promised to build a wall–“a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
   When discussing Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a U.S. district judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University–by the way, an American-born citizen–the President-elect said the judge couldn’t be impartial and should be removed from the case because “this judge is of Mexican heritage.”
   Judge Curiel was born and raised in Indiana.
   Mr. Trump’s right-hand man, his designated Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, used his position at Breitbart News to continue attacks against Latinos. Under his leadership, Breitbart frequently used anti-immigrant slurs and published “war on Spanish” and nativist-appealing content in his quest to make his platform a platform for White nationalism.
   It is important to note that even many Republicans and conservative commentators believe that Mr. Bannon is a man with unconscionable views and frightening ties to white supremacist movements.
   John Weaver, a former top adviser to Governor John Kasich tweeted of Mr. Bannon’s selection as Chief Strategist: “The racist, fascist extreme is represented footsteps from the Oval Office.”
   Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, called Bannon: “White supremacist, anti gay, anti Semite, vindictive.” Ana then said: “Be afraid, America.”
   Glenn Beck, known to all of us as a rightwing radio commentator–a very conservative commentator, a person who has attacked virtually every idea to help working America that comes from the blue side of the aisle–said Bannon is “terrifying” and said that he has helped to give voice to White nationalists.
   Former KKK leader David Duke and the American Nazi Party have praised Bannon’s elevation to the White House. So there should be no mistaking or sugar coating what precisely this individual, Steve Bannon, stands for.
   Under his leadership, Breitbart became a leader in anti-Latino, nativist material–one headline after another attacking Hispanics here in America.
   So when we look at what is happening right at this moment to Latinos today, what do we see? We see students in our schools taunting and bullying their classmates. At DeWitt Junior High School in Lansing, MI, White students formed a human wall and refused to let their Latino classmates into the school.
   In Ventura, CA, a Latino mother reported seeing fifth graders at her child’s school chanting: “Build a wall.”
   Latinos all across our Nation are being harassed and told they are going to be deported, they don’t belong here in America, even if they were born here in America.
   In Andover, MA, a group of white men in a car threw a water bottle at a young Hispanic woman and screamed: “Time to go back to your country”–insert expletive–“my man Trump is on top now and we don’t want you here!”
   In Southern California, a college student was accosted by a man who said:
   I can’t wait until Trump asks us to rape your people and send you back over the biggest damn wall we’re going to build. Go back to hell.
   Then he inserted a racist slur for a Mexican and then threw water in the young woman’s face.
   Walls all across the Nation are being spray painted with phrases such as: “Build the Wall Higher.”
   In the face of attacks such as these, it is hard to remember that we are, indeed, a nation of immigrants. Unless you are 100-percent Native American, you are the child, grandchild, great grandchild, or the descendent of immigrants. Your forefathers and foremothers came to our country and felt they had come to a place where they could thrive. We have those beautiful words carved into the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
   It inspires all of us. Each one of us–again, unless we are 100-percent Native American–have an ancestor who came to the country and felt that moment of freedom and opportunity no matter where they had come from.
   Latinos are not the only group of Americans suffering because of the rhetoric of the Trump campaign. African Americans have become a significant target in post-Trump America, as too many take their cues from our next President’s words and actions towards that community–words like the ones President-Elect Trump used to talk about African Americans who work for him. He said:
   “I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
   He then went on to say:
   “I think the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”
   Those are the words of our President-elect.
   When he talked about the Black Lives Matter movement on FOX News, he said:
   “I think they are trouble. I think they’re looking for trouble.”
   He often shows a startling disconnect with the African-American community, generalizing that they all live in inner cities that he regularly describes as poverty-stricken war zones.
   This disconnect started very early on in his real estate career when President-Elect Trump was publicly sued twice for discriminating against African Americans who were trying to rent apartments in his buildings.
   Of course, we can’t talk about Mr. Trump’s–President-Elect Trump’s–relations with the African-American community without bringing up his longstanding promotion and advocacy of the birther movement, which tried to delegitimize our country’s first African-American President.
   Those efforts go back to 2011, when Mr. Trump was considering a run for the White House and said on one talk show: “If he wasn’t born in this country, which is a real possibility ….. then he has pulled off one of the great cons in the history of politics.”
   He went on and on and on–month after month–questioning the legitimacy of our President in office.
   To his credit, on that particular point Mr. Trump has recanted himself, but he used it as a race card time after time after time to delegitimize our President–President Obama–because he is African American.
   The views of President-Elect Trump’s right-hand man, his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, aren’t any better. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart created a news section titled “Black Crime.”
   Just 2 weeks after the Charleston massacre in which nine African-American churchgoers were slaughtered, Breitbart ran this headline. By the way, in that attack, the attacker used the Confederate flag as a symbol–a racist symbol–to justify attacking these nine individuals.
   What did Steve Bannon do? He ran this headline: “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.”
   In a lengthy July post on Breitbart, Bannon accused the left of a “plot to take down America” by fixating on police shootings of Black citizens. Well, the list goes on and on, but he proceeded to say: “There are, after all, in this world, some people who are naturally aggressive and violent.” That is certainly a direct racist statement.
   And what is the result we see today of all of this racism from our President-elect and from his Chief Strategist? Well, we have seen a startling rise in people’s willingness to use the “N” word in public.
   At a school in Maple Grove, MN, the boys bathroom was defaced by graffiti that included racial slurs such as the “N” word and porch monkeys, alongside pro-Trump messages such as “Trump Train” and “Make America Great Again.”
   Students from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who were living off campus found the quote “Go Home” and the “N” word written on their front door.
   A man in Knoxville, TN, woke up one morning to find his car vandalized with the phrase–and I am paraphrasing–expletive deleted “U”, insert “N” word, and then the word “Trump” spray-painted on his car.
   We have seen incidents harkening back to a time in history of discrimination and segregation.
   At a high school in Jacksonville, FL, an individual put up these signs: “Colored” and “Whites Only”–the time of Jim Crow in America, where African Americans were treated as second-class citizens–and a “Whites Only” sign was found on the door of a bathroom stall at a high school in Duluth, MN.
   These are just a few of the incidents. There are the assaults as well, one incident after another of African Americans being assaulted. There is the softball field dugout in Wellsville, NY, where the phrase “Make America White Again” was spray-painted and the defacement of a wall in Durham, NC, where someone decided to write “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your vote.” There was a horrific incident in my State of Oregon in which an African-American woman was attacked in the parking lot of a grocery store in Hillsboro, OR. A group of three men threw a brick at her, broke her ribs, called her the “N” word, threatened to rape her, and they said: Now we finally have a President who feels how we feel.
   It is hard to imagine how our President-elect, with his own racist commentary, his own past acts of discrimination, his own racist campaign, his own racist Chief Strategist, isn’t at all connected to these events sweeping the country. They are directly connected. And that is why we are calling on the President-elect to change course. The election is behind us. Before the President-elect is 4 years of opportunities to improve the lives of Americans. Take the assaults of the past and make them the assaults of the past. Look to the vision of partnership to build a better America in the years ahead. Leave that past behind.
   Martin Luther King, Jr., once said:
   Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. ….. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and the passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
   Let’s make that the spirit of the next 4 years, where together we are dedicated to progress for all Americans toward reaching that goal of opportunity and equality and justice.
   Another target has been our women across the country. Our President-elect repeatedly treated women as sexual objects. Women have worked so hard to be seen as equals in our society. Women have flown as astronauts. They have reached the heights in science. They have reached peak after peak in leadership across our country. They bring their insight and wisdom to this Chamber here in the U.S. Senate and in the House of Representatives 100 yards across Capitol Hill.
   But our President-elect has seen it differently. Referring to the media, he said: “It doesn’t really matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of”–insert a demeaning term for women. He declared that “You don’t give a”–insert expletive–“if a girl can play a violin like the greatest violinist in the world. You want to know what does she look like.”
   Our President-elect derided a political opponent by commenting on her looks, saying, “look at that face! Would anybody vote for that? Can you imagine that, the next face of our President?”
   During the campaign, our President-elect called a female lawyer disgusting or at some point in passing he called a female lawyer disgusting because she asked to take a medical break to pump breast milk for her 3-month-old daughter.
   I think we are all aware of the comments he made towards FOX News debate moderator Megyn Kelly–words I choose not to repeat at this moment. And then he said pregnant women are an inconvenience for his business. And of course our President-elect was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, saying:
   “I’m just automatically attracted to beautiful–I just start kissing them. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
   Then he went on to talk about groping the women and being able to get away with it because he is a star.
   He has brought into the White House his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, who shares these views about women, putting up a headline: “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women. ….. They Just Suck At Interviews.”
   Another one said: “The Solution to Online `Harassment’ is simple: Women Should Log Off.”
   Here is another: “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?” as if women’s rights are a disease.
   We see that these comments and the conduct of the President-elect and the comments of his Chief Strategist have had an impact. Two men at a concert in Ohio threatened to “Donald Trump” a female security guard because she wouldn’t let them into a restricted section of the venue. According to one teacher, a 10-year-old girl was taken home from school after a male classmate grabbed her private parts, and when asked why he did it, the boy said that if a President can do it, he can do it too. In Oklahoma City, a woman was chased on the highway because of her Hillary bumper sticker, while men in another car hurled sexual insults at her.
   These are just a small number of the hundreds and hundreds of events happening across this country. Every Member of this body, every Member of the Senate can relate stories from people who have shared with them over the past few weeks, stories from their constituents who have written to them to share the harassment they have suffered.
   We have just seen a historic milestone. We have had, for the first time, a woman as the nominee of a major political party–and not only that, she got a lot more votes than did Donald Trump. The women’s suffrage movement has come so far since the days when Elizabeth Cady Stanton said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal” and that “the history of the past is but one long struggle toward equality.” We have come a long ways in the few decades since Martin Luther King said that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice. Across our country, citizens have worked to bend that arc in this vision of a nation that embraces opportunity for all–not opportunity only for the rich and powerful to have more opportunity, but opportunity for all, for every child to have the ability to contribute to this country.
   My father, now deceased, was a mechanic. He never went to college. But he told me when I was in grade school: Son, if you go through the doors of that schoolhouse and you work hard, you can do just about anything here in America. That is the vision we want to strive toward, where the son of a mechanic, the daughter of a janitor, the child of a Hispanic couple or an African-American couple or a gay couple or a lesbian couple–where every child has the opportunity to thrive. To do that, we have to set aside these racist attacks, these sexist attacks.
   Another target has been our Muslim-American community. For the last year and a half, they, like other groups of Americans, have been denigrated and insulted by President-Elect Trump and his campaign. His campaign has worked to fan the flames of Islamophobia. Take Mr. Trump’s views on registering Muslim-Americans. When asked whether the United States should have a registry of Muslims, he said, “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely. ….. There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems.” When the reporter followed by asking “Would Muslims be required to register?” he answered, “They have to be. They have to be.”
   Well, let me share with the President-elect that we are not a nation that discriminates because of one’s religion. It is called freedom of religion. Our vision is opportunity for all. There were nations that discriminated based on religion. Those were European nations. That is why a lot of our forefathers came here–to escape that oppression and to have the freedom to thrive and to maintain the religious views they wanted to have, not what somebody else told them they had to have, or to be imprisoned, or register them for discrimination because of their religious background.
   So when any American attacks our Muslim-American brothers and sisters, we need to stand with them shoulder to shoulder. And if any other religious group is attacked, we need to stand with them shoulder to shoulder and stand for the vision of opportunity and equality for all. That is what every Member of this Chamber should be coming down here to say–that when those groups are attacked, we will stand with them because that is not the vision of America. That is not the spirit of America. That certainly is 100 percent contrary to the vision of America.
   Our President-elect tried to foment fear of Muslims seeking refuge in our Nation from war zones. He told a crowd in Minneapolis that allowing refugees into our country “will import generations of terrorism, extremism and radicalism into your schools and throughout your communities.”
   This statement is so far diverged from the truth as to make it impossible to recognize where he got this notion. Every expert will tell you that if a terrorist wants to come into our Nation, the hardest path is to come as a refugee: You have to go to refugee camp, you have to be registered, you have to be vetted for years, and if you are male, you are probably not going to make it, but because the goal was to foment Islamophobia, this lie was repeated again and again. It is much easier to come into our country on a tourist visa, a business visa, a student visa, not a refugee settlement visa.
   Our President-elect told the same crowd that refugees settling in Minnesota were “joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country. ….. `’
   Now there are reports from some connected with the transition team that the incoming administration is considering implementing a system for registering Muslim Americans, just as President-Elect Trump talked about, and using our country’s shameful internment of Japanese Americans to justify this idea because it is a precedent. Let me be clear: Imprisoning fellow Americans as we did during World War II was a shameful and dark chapter and a mistake. We need to make sure we remember that it was a mistake and never use it as a precedent for action in the future.
   Then, again, here we have our President-elect’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, who has run headlines like, “Political Correctness Protects the Muslim Rape Culture” or “Immediately After Muslim Mayor Elected, London’s Iconic Buses Proclaim, `Glory to Allah.”’ Mr. Bannon has personally suggested that we are in a global war against Islam.
   So it is no wonder the rhetoric of our President-elect and the leader of the White supremacist Web site is causing discrimination and confrontation with Muslim Americans around our country.
   Some are being physically assaulted, like the woman at San Jose University who lost her balance and choked when a man attempted to rip off her headscarf or the Muslim student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus who reported having a knife pulled on her.
   Then there are those who are being verbally abused and otherwise intimidated, including a woman riding the BART train in San Francisco who was accosted when another passenger called her a terrorist who should be deported, and a pickup truck that has been driving around Brooksville, FL, with writing on it that says: “All Muslims are Terrorists,” “Deport them all,” and “I hate Muslims.” In Georgia, a Muslim teacher found a note left for her that said: “Headscarf isn’t allowed anymore” and telling her to “hang yourself with it.” That is the level of Islamophobia sweeping our Nation at this very moment, inspired by the rhetoric of our President-elect and his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, and it is unacceptable. It needs to stop.
   As Robert Kennedy once said, “America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity–the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.” We need to embrace that heritage, we need to cherish that heritage, and we need to strive to live up to the best instincts of our Nation, not the darkest impulses.
   Yet another group that is feeling threatened is our LGBTQ community. I will note that Donald Trump in his campaign did not attack our LGBTQ community overtly, and he said on “60 Minutes” the other night, as the question of same-sex marriage came up, the question of same-sex marriage is “settled.”
   Actions speak as well as words, and of all the possible men and women he could choose as a running mate, he chose now-Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, the most anti-LGBTQ Governor in America. This individual is someone who has signed a draconian religious “liberty law” in Indiana that allows individuals and businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Our Vice President-elect supported conversion therapy to change people’s sexual behavior. As a radio host, he gave a speech and declared marital equality would lead to “societal collapse.”
   Mr. Trump’s Chief Strategist echoes much of this. One headline on Breitbart News said: “Dear Straight People: I’m Officially Giving You Permission to Say”–and then it goes on to list anti-LGBTQ slurs. Another headline that he put up on his Web site said: “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It’s Time to Get Back in The Closet.” Yet another headline said: “Kids Raised By Same-Sex Couples Twice As Likely To Be Depressed, Fat Adults.”
   How has this kind of rhetoric impacted our Nation since the election? A gay couple in Ogden, UT, woke up to find their car vandalized with anti-gay slurs painted on the side. Rainbow flags, the symbol of the LGBTQ movement around the world, were burned in Rochester, NY. An individual in North Carolina found a note on their car that said:
   Can’t wait until your “marriage” is overturned by a real president. Gay families = burn in hell #Trump 2016.
   Like so many of the other groups of Americans I have talked about, the LGBTQ community has struggled for a long time to be accepted, to be recognized as full members of our society, to not be discriminated against when they seek employment in our country, to have the same rights against discrimination that we adopted for race and gender and ethnicity in 1964. We have come a ways, but we haven’t yet made it to the point that we have provided the same foundation against discrimination that we provided in 1964 to other groups.
   So while Donald Trump himself did not attack the LGBTQ community, the person he chose as Vice President and the person he elevated to Chief Strategist for the White House very much have, and that is a powerful, powerful message that has unleashed attacks across this country.
   As our next President, Donald Trump has the responsibility to put an end to the prejudice and to put an end to the hate crimes sweeping our Nation and to calm the fears and anxieties of millions of Americans who are frightened about their future in this country–about whether they will have an opportunity to contribute to this country, whether they will be fired from their job, whether their car will be vandalized, whether their children will be taunted and bullied, whether they will be attacked in a parking lot.
   Across the Nation, thousands of people have been turning out to walk the streets and to protest. They are trying to send a message. Sometimes that message has gone off-track.
   In Portland, OR, thousands turned out to send this message to our President elect: Put the hate speech and hate acts behind you. Don’t bring White supremacists or deeply prejudiced individuals into your administration. Let’s have a next 4 years that embraces all Americans and their opportunity to succeed. They are trying to send a message by walking with their feet from park to park, across bridges, through the streets.
   Unfortunately, some anarchists decided to destroy the effectiveness of this protest by breaking windows and setting some fires. The organizers of these protests condemn the anarchists and try to keep them out, and most of the protests have succeeded.
   I ask for our President-elect, if you won’t listen to those of us who are publicly asking you to change course, and if you won’t listen to my colleagues who are privately calling you and saying to you and your team to change course, then listen to the people in the streets across America who are trying to peacefully convey the message that we are a diverse nation, with a fabulous vision of embracing people of every religion and every ethnicity and every race. Let’s continue that tradition. Let’s strengthen that tradition. Let’s build on that tradition. That is the message all of us are trying to send.
   I join my colleagues to repeat the requests we have made on the floor in Senate, the letter we sent to you, the message sent privately by many of my colleagues sitting across the aisle, the message sent by many of our leaders from civil rights groups and other organizations who have contacted the transition team, the message that has echoed with thousands and thousands of emails sent to Capitol Hill to ask us to help convey this message.
   From every direction, Americans are reaching out and saying: End the hate speech. End the hate commentary. Bring people into your administration who believe in opportunity and justice for all. Change directions.
   It is a time for leadership. It is time for our President-Elect Donald Trump to rise to the occasion and to help build a nation that provides the foundation for every American to thrive.

“Oregon’s Grand Canyon” Was Going To Be a National Monument. The Bundys Killed It.

The cliffs along the Owyhee River in this state’s southeastern corner have been called “Oregon’s Grand Canyon.”

The area is home to one the largest bands of California bighorn sheep in the country, herds of antelope, and 200 other species. Located 450 miles from Portland, it’s the mythical deserted West, free from fast-food joints, strip malls and, in most places, cellphone service.

And thanks to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by anti-government militants led by Ammon Bundy, the Owyhee Canyonlands is a long way from the federal protection environmentalists hoped President Barack Obama would grant as part of his legacy.

Environmentalists pushed for Obama to declare 2.5 million acres in the Owhyee Canyonlands as Oregon’s fifth national monument.

“The Owyhee was on the short list a year ago,” says Steve Pedery, conservation director of Oregon Wild. “There were no good, credible arguments as to why it wouldn’t happen.”

Now people familiar with the process say the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument is all but dead—a victim of the Malheur occupation, which changed the political climate, spooking federal bureaucrats and Oregon’s congressional delegation.

“It definitely had an impact,” says Doug Moore, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. “How could it not? It’s in the same region you had a hostile takeover of federal lands.”

The federal Department of the Interior, the agency coordinating the monument process, didn’t respond to a request for comment. But those involved in the monument process say the feds lost their nerve for further conflict in Oregon.

“Prior to the occupation, I felt pretty confident that the Owyhee would be protected,” says John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance. “After the occupation, the path forward became a lot trickier.”

A broad coalition of conservation and recreation groups pushed for Obama to permanently protect the vast patchwork of federally owned property known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. (Most of the land is in Malheur County, but it doesn’t include the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.)

“Timber companies, ranchers and other private property owners are closing off access to their lands,” says Bob Rees, executive director of Northwest Steelheaders. “Public lands are becoming the real endangered species, so to speak. Preserving and protecting them is paramount.”

Last year, a coalition led by the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Portland-based Keen Footwear launched a campaign to put pressure on the White House to declare the Owyhee a national monument. ONDA worked with local officials and retained Josh Kardon, former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Keen launched a national campaign called “Live Monumental,” highlighting the Owyhee and four other proposed monuments.

The timing was good because a Democratic president would soon be leaving office. Federal law allows presidents to establish national monuments without congressional approval. Such designations are usually controversial, so presidents traditionally leave them until the end of their terms. There are 162 national monuments, but of the past five Republican presidents, only George W. Bush declared even one new monument.

As early as 2010, according to an op-ed that former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt wrote in The Oregonian, the Owyhee was shortlisted for monument status.

There was plenty of opposition, including local residents, ranchers concerned about preserving grazing rights, and companies interested in exploiting the region’s mineral wealth.

In 2015, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), who represents Malheur County, ordered the state to assess what lay beneath the region’s surface. The answer came this September: commercial deposits of gold, silver, uranium and other less-coveted minerals.

What was nonetheless shaping up as a major victory for conservation forces turned into a blowout loss when Ammon Bundy and his followers moved into the Malheur refuge on Jan. 2, staying through Feb. 11.

While the Bundys seized federal property, opponents of federal protection for the land also took action.

On Jan. 29, they incorporated the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition and, a week later, hired Gallatin Public Affairs in Portland to mount a counteroffensive against the monument designation. (It is unclear where the stewardship’s money came from.)

Gallatin built a slick website, lined Interstate 5 with campaign signs, and began a media blitz declaring there should be no monument without a vote of Congress.

Gallatin’s Ryan Frank, a spokesman for the coalition, says the group had no association with or sympathy for the Malheur occupiers, whom he calls “out-of-town extremists.”

But Frank acknowledges the occupation achieved the result opponents of the monument wanted.

“It was a miserable, gut-wrenching event for the region,” Frank says of the occupation, “but in an odd way, yes, our client benefits from it.”

Most people involved in the monument process say that by the time David Fry, the last occupier, left the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Feb. 11, opponents of the monument had won.

And the Oregon congressional delegation, despite comprising six Democrats and just one Republican, has accepted the result the Bundys thrust upon them.

Of those who’ve taken an active interest, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) sides with monument opponents, while Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is the strongest supporter.

Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, introduced a halfhearted bill this summer, aimed at preventing mineral extraction in the Owyhee basin. Protective legislation is the first step in the monument process. When it fails, the president steps in.

But the Wyden-Merkley bill was far less than advocates hoped for before the Malheur occupation—and stood in marked contrast to the scorched-earth tactics of another Westerner, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

In 2013, Reid proposed far stronger legislation aimed at protecting Gold Butte, a piece of land a rifle shot away from Cliven Bundy’s ranch near Bunkerville, Nev. When the legislation went nowhere, Reid promised this August that Gold Butte would be declared a national monument before year’s end, adding that the only reason it hadn’t happened already is that “Republicans hate public lands.”

“Having Reid say, ‘Goddamn it, I support declaring a new monument,’ makes a big difference,” says Pedery.

Of course, Reid is the Senate’s senior-most Democrat, and he’s retiring this year, so he can afford to be bold.

Merkley spokeswoman Martina McLennan says her boss wants to see future protections for the Owyhee “through collaborative efforts that consider local input.”

Hank Stern, a Wyden spokesman, says Wyden did his part by introducing legislation.

“Monuments are created by the executive branch,” Stern says, “and Sen. Wyden has communicated clearly to this administration the views of Oregonians supporting and opposing the idea.”

Jeff Merkley and Al Franken Urge Criminal Investigation of Wells Fargo

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) urged federal officials to begin a criminal investigation of Wells Fargo executives at a press conference this morning outside of the bank’s branch on Southwest Sixth Avenue in Portland.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating whether the bank violated federal laws by pressuring employees to meet high sales quotas, leading employees to create fraudulent bank and credit accounts without customers’ consent.

The bank was fined $185 million last month in civil penalties. But Sens. Merkley and Franken say that Wells Fargo executives should be held criminally accountable.

“When ordinary Americans break the law, they pay the price,” said Merkley at today’s press conference. “But time after time, when executives are involved in extensive fraud, they walk away scot-free. That must end.”

The bank fired 5,300 employees over the course of several years for reasons related to the creation of fraudulent accounts, but Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and other top executives are still on the bank’s payroll.

“Wells Fargo’s conduct was outrageous and unacceptable, and I believe that for too long, we’ve failed to hold executives accountable,” Franken said at the conference. “That’s why Sen. Merkley and I wrote to the Department of Justice urging them to launch an investigation of the conduct at Wells Fargo.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido says the bank is working to win back its customers’ trust.

“We take Congressional concerns very seriously,” Pulido said in a statement. “At Wells Fargo, our No. 1 priority is making things right with our customers and restoring the public trust, and we are dedicated to ensuring that all aspects of the Company’s business are conducted with integrity, transparency and oversight. We are working at every level to diligently respond to, investigate and resolve any issues related to improper sales practices.”

Earlier this week, Merkley and Franken, along with 14 other senators, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the Department of Justice to investigate the executives.

“Following the 2008 financial crisis, the American people watched as senior executives repeatedly escaped accountability for actions that nearly brought down the global economy,” the letter reads. “Americans are rightly frustrated when they see that justice for the wealthy and powerful is very different than justice for everybody else.”

Jeff Merkley is One of Just Two U.S. Senators Who Want to Legalize Cannabis

Oregon’s legal cannabis appears poised to get some company. Voters in California will decide next month whether to legalize recreational weed—a vote that could be a tipping point for ending pot prohibition nationally.

But there’s one place where cannabis isn’t catching on: Congress.

A new report by The Washington Post shows that just 22 members of the U.S. Congress support cannabis legalization. That’s despite polling that shows 54 percent of Americans want to legalize pot.

Among the handful of weed proponents on Capitol Hill are Oregon’s Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats.

Merkley is one of just two senators who support cannabis legalization—the other is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

The result of so few lawmakers being willing to consider drug reform was apparent last week, when Republican congressional leadership blocked a Blumenauer provision that would have eased access to medical marijuana for veterans.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing that despite broad bipartisan, bicameral support, a handful of out-of-touch lawmakers put politics over the well-being of America’s wounded warriors,” Blumenauer said in a statement last Thursday. “Our veterans deserve better.”

Oregon’s Senators Decry DEA Refusal to Take Cannabis Off Schedule I Drug List

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, sharply criticized a DEA decision announced today to keep marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance.

“The DEA’s decision flies in the face of choices made freely by voters in Oregon and many other states about the legality of marijuana,” Wyden said in a statement. “The bottom line is the DEA is keeping federal law behind the times.”

Merkley was even more scathing, accusing the DEA of throwing a wrench into Oregon’s economy.

“The federal government shouldn’t force Oregon’s legal marijuana businesses to carry gym bags full of cash to pay their taxes, employees and bills,” Merkley said.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon congressional delegation’s loudest voice for ending pot prohibition, released his outraged statement on Wednesdaybefore the official decision.

The DEA’s decision, announced today, will keep marijuana on the same schedule as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. Schedule I drugs are subject to the most restrictions when it comes to manufacturing, possession, and sale.

Marijuana’s scheduling allows for severe penalties for cannabis users, such as a decision by U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams to press federal drug charges against Native American teenager Devontre Thomas for a gram of weed.

The DEA’s move came as a denial of petitions by former Washington and Rhode Island governors Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee to reschedule the drug. In a letter to current governors Jay Inslee and Gina Raimondo, Chuck Rosenberg, acting DEA administrator, gave the agency’s rationale for its decision.

“[Marijuana] does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” Rosenberg wrote. “There is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”

The decision comes as a disappointment to an increasing number of public officials—including Oregon’s congressional delegation—call for the deregulation of weed. Oregon’s two senators, along with six others, wrote a letter to the DEA in December calling for pot’s rescheduling.

Nationwide polls show broad support for legalizing the drug, and legalization and decriminalization measures will be on eight state ballots in November, including California and Massachusetts.

Here’s Wyden’s full statement:

“The DEA’s decision flies in the face of choices made freely by voters in Oregon and many other states about the legality of marijuana. The bottom line is the DEA is keeping federal law behind the times,” Wyden said. “The one piece of good news in today’s announcement is that fewer research restrictions on marijuana will give the federal government the evidence it needs to reduce barriers to the potential medical benefits of marijuana and to treat legal businesses fairly.

Here’s Merkley’s full statement:

“Today’s announcement from the DEA is a huge disappointment to people in the 27 jurisdictions across the country that have legalized medicinal marijuana and in the growing number of states that are legalizing recreational marijuana use.  It is counterproductive that as millions of voters and legislatures across the country are taking steps to allow and regulate the use of marijuana, the federal government is doubling down on its archaic prohibition and continuing to perpetuate an untenable status quo.

“There are huge hurdles that legal marijuana businesses in states like Oregon are facing with the DEA’s reluctance to change. Currently, marijuana businesses operating under state laws that have legalized medicinal or recreational use have had a hard time accessing the banking system because banks and credit unions that provide them services can be sanctioned or shut down under federal law. Without the ability to access bank accounts, accept credit cards, or write checks, businesses must operate using dangerously large amounts of cash. In Oregon alone, it is estimated that the marijuana market could bring in close to half a billion dollars in revenue, all in cash, during its first 14 months of legal sales. The federal government shouldn’t force Oregon’s legal marijuana businesses to carry gym bags full of cash to pay their taxes, employees and bills.

“Expanding access to marijuana for research is helpful, but doesn’t solve these problems.  It’s clear now that Congress must take action to end the confusing patchwork of state and federal laws and regulations so that businesses in states that have legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana can access banking services, additional federal research can be conducted, and Veterans Affairs doctors can finally discuss medicinal marijuana with patients.”

Capitol Hill Officials Demand to Know Why a Native American Teenager Is Being Prosecuted for Cannabis

Three members of Oregon’s congressional delegation are demanding U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams explain why his office is prosecuting a Native American teenager for allegedly possessing a gram of marijuana.

In letter that will be mailed tomorrow, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, all Oregon Democrats, ask Williams to give them a full list of the marijuana crimes his office has pursued since 2014, when Oregon voters legalized recreational cannabis.

“Marijuana possession charges have declined in Oregon over the past few years, and we hope to see that trend continue,” the delegation writes. “We hope that your office continues this focus on dangerous criminal activity, rather than pursuing crimes involving a substance legal in Oregon.”

Last week, a WW cover story examined the prosecution of 19-year-old Devontre Thomas, who was a senior at Salem’s Chemawa Indian School — an off-reservation boarding school run by the federal Bureau of Indian Education — when he was accused of buying a gram of cannabis in 2015.

More than a year after his alleged crime, Thomas was slapped with federal charges.  Thomas has refused to plead guilty, and is risking a hefty penalty: up to year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokewoman Gerri Badden declined to comment on pending litigation.

When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Thomas’ public defender Ruben Iniguez was “ecstatic.”

“I’m thrilled to learn that our representatives, despite their obviously busy schedules, are concerned that our federal resources are used to prosecute serious offenders, violent offenders and those persons whose records and actions make clear that pursuing their prosecutions are necessary to protect the public,” Iniguez said, “And that the facts of this case make absolutely clear that Mr. Thomas is not even close to one of these persons and our resources shouldn’t spent in this way. I’m glad to hear it.”

The full text of the letter addressed to Williams is below.

 

August 4, 2016

Billy Williams
US Attorney for the District of Oregon
US Department of Justice
District of Oregon
1000 SW Third Ave Suite 600
Portland, Oregon 97204

Dear Mr. Williams:

We write today deeply concerned about the drug prosecution priorities of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon and to request a full list of all marijuana possession crimes pursued by your office since 2014. With heroin, methamphetamines, and opioids causing widespread harm to people across the state, your office has substantial drug enforcement priorities, other than the prosecution of simple marijuana possession crimes.

We recognize that marijuana remains a Schedule I Substance under the Controlled Substances Act, but your office retains prosecutorial discretion in expending scarce legal resources in pursuit of those priorities that will make the biggest difference to Oregonians. President Obama has stated that “we have bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting state legal marijuana cases. We agree with this approach.

There are opportunity costs in choosing to prosecute low level marijuana crimes rather than targeting criminal activity linked to violence. In particular, we have concerns with any approach that fails to take into account the devastating effects that marijuana possession convictions have on future employment and education prospects for those who are convicted, especially for a substance that has been decriminalized in Oregon since 1973. Fighting dangerous drug crimes and reducing the prevalence of these drugs and their effects should be the priority of your office.

Marijuana possession charges have declined in Oregon over the past few years, and we hope to see that trend continue. We hope that your office continues this focus on dangerous criminal activity, rather than pursuing crimes involving a substance legal in Oregon. We look forward to receiving your response.

The 7 Oregon Democratic Delegates You Need to Follow Tonight on Twitter

Don’t trust the media?

Get the social scoop from the Oregon delegates on the Democratic National Convention floor.

We combed through the Twitter feeds of more than three dozen Oregon delegates and superdelegates to find the people posting the most interesting stuff in Philadelphia. (One of them predicted “a 100% chance Hillary will get boo’d off the stage when she speaks.”)

If they walk out again tonight, you’ll know.

Follow her here.

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Follow him here.

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Follow him here.

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Follow her here.

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Follow her here.

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Follow her here.

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Follow him here.

Sen. Jeff Merkley Will Speak Monday Night at Democratic National Convention

As the Democratic Party presidential primary dragged into protracted battle this spring U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) was front and center.

So it makes sense he’ll be onstage as the Dems try to make peace in Philadelphia.

Merkley will get a primetime speaking spot Monday night at the Democratic National Convention. His office tells WW the senator will speak at 5 pm Pacific Standard Time.

Roll Call first reported Merkley’s speaking invite today. Merkley becomes the second Oregon elected official to speak at the convention, joining Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Merkley played a prominent role in shuttle diplomacy between presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton and challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). Merkley was the only U.S. Senator to endorse Sanders, and the Sanders’ camp briefly pushed Merkley as a possible Clinton vice-presidential pick.

Roll Call notes that Merkley will join a roster of Monday speakers from the left wing of the party—including Sanders.

Why Won’t the Federal Government Investigate the Oregon Oil Train Fire?

In the wake of an oil-train fire in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden unveiled a new bill yesterday that demands federal investigators inspect every major oil train derailment.

The bill would also clarify the authority of federal transport administrations to put a moratorium on oil trains following an accident.

The bill comes a month after a Union Pacific train derailed in Mosier, Ore., leaking 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the soil, wastewater system and Columbia River. Fittingly, the new bill is named the Mandate Oil Spill Inspections and Emergency Rules, or MOSIER Act.

“As Oregon has seen firsthand, these oil trains are rolling explosion hazards,” said Merkley in yesterday’s press release introducing the bill.

Since the Mosier incident, the Oregon senators and Gov. Kate Brown have repeatedly called upon federal authorities to take steps to prevent future oil train derailments. The new bill is seemingly spurred by the federal administrations’ lack of action in response.

The National Transportation Safety Board declined to investigate the derailment in Mosier, prompting Wyden and Merkley to write a letter to the board last month saying that “the NTSB would have brought a vital perspective to investigations being carried out by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Oregon Department of Transportation.”

In its response to Merkley and Wyden’s letter, the NTSB cited a lack of resources as a reason they didn’t investigate.

Last month, Gov. Kate Brown called on federal regulators to institute a moratorium on oil trains in the state after the accident, but she received little response.

“This bill ensures that federal authorities can stop trains after a major derailment until a thorough investigation has been completed, and that the NTSB has ample resources to closely examine the root causes of such a crash,” said Wyden in yesterday’s press release.

U.S. Senate Passes GMO Labeling Bill But Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley Vote “No”

Oregon came ever so close to passing a 2014 ballot measure that would have required the labeling of genetically modified foods.

The labeling effort here was led by progressives—the liberal wing of the Democratic Party who propelled U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) to an easy victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the May 17 Oregon primary.

Big agriculture and chemical companies defeated Measure 92 in 2014—but only by about six one-hundredths of a percent, a margin that came after a recount.

The GMO fight in Oregon cost more than $31 million, with opponents spending two-thirds of that.

Part of what the “no” side said was they didn’t want a patchwork of regulations with each state taking a different approach to labeling. They also defeated GMO bills in California in 2012 and Washington in 2013.

Now, a bill that is aimed at setting a national standard and is backed at least in part backed by the food industry and companies such as Monsanto that spent heavily to defeat the Oregon measure, is moving in the U.S. Senate.

Two of the measure’s loudest opponents? Sanders, and the only senator to endorse his presidential bid, U.S Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) both of whom say the bill senators approved by a 65 to 30 vote on July 7 does too little for consumers.

From Reuters:

Critics like Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, say the bill’s vague language and allowance for electronic labels for scanning could limit its scope and create confusion.

“When parents go to the store and purchase food, they have the right to know what is in the food their kids are going to be eating,” Sanders said on the floor of the Senate ahead of the vote.

He said at a news conference this week that major food manufacturers have already begun labeling products with GMO ingredients to meet the new law in his home state.

Another opponent of the bill, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, said it would institute weak federal requirements making it virtually impossible for consumers to access information about GMOs.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, where Reuters says it is expected to pass.