“The designation of Michael Flynn to be National Security Adviser is deeply alarming. His statements about Muslims are profoundly un-American as well as damaging to the fight against terrorism and national security. He has indicated an openness to torture and the destruction of an entire city, both of which are clearly illegal, not to mention immoral and destructive to America’s global leadership. His financial entanglements with Russia and other foreign governments are also cause for concern, particularly given President-elect Trump’s refusal to disclose his own finances.
With the designation of Michael Flynn and Steven Bannon, the president-elect has created a White House leadership that embodies the most divisive rhetoric of his campaign. To the extent that these become policies or legislative proposals, I commit to stopping them. I will also approach the confirmation process with the expectation that nominees will, at the very minimum, demonstrate a clear commitment to American values and the rule of law.
In that spirit, I look forward to the confirmation process for Representative Mike Pompeo to be Director of the CIA. Given its recent history of operating a disastrous torture program and then spying on the Senate itself, the agency demands principled leadership now more than ever. Unfortunately, Representative Pompeo’s comments in which he asserted that the CIA’s torture program was legal and that the American people did not deserve to know about it are deeply troubling.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
As rents rise in Portland, city and state officials are racing to find public dollars for people on the edge of homelessness.
City Hall is trying to pass a $258 million property tax bond to fund affordable housing. State legislators pledge to consider a temporary cap on rent increases next session.
Yet the vast majority of subsidies for housing come from the federal government—most of them in the form of tax breaks.
Low-income housing advocates are now wondering why Oregon’s senior U.S. senator has proposed a brand-new public housing subsidy that wouldn’t help the people who need it most.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) this September introduced a housing tax credit worth upward of $3 billion over 10 years that would encourage real estate developers to build units for the middle class.
Wyden’s suggested use of coveted federal resources has low-income housing advocates bristling—and Portland housing officials saying they don’t need the subsidy.
“[Wyden’s] proposal is misguided at best, and wasteful at worst,” says Diane Yentel, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There are literally more children living in homeless shelters throughout the country than there are severely cost burdened middle-income renters.”
The policy fight pits the poor against the middle class in a scramble for scarce federal housing resources. At the center of the fight is Wyden, who is expected to sail to re-election next week and is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. He may take on an even more powerful role as head of the Senate Finance Committee if the Democrats gain control of the chamber.
Wyden’s office says his bill is intended to help everybody who is seeking affordable housing, not just the most rent-squeezed residents.
“Sen. Wyden introduced his middle-income housing tax credit proposal because one of the most common issues that comes up in conversation with Oregonians statewide is the struggle to find affordable homes,” says Wyden’s Finance Committee staffer, Ryan Carey. “Nearly 30 percent of middle-income renters in Oregon are rent-burdened, meaning that they spend around a third or more of their income in rent.”
The legislation would create tax credits to be allocated to each state based on population. In turn, state housing agencies would award the credits to interested developers who would create units affordable for anyone making between 60 and 100 percent of the local median income. Unused credits could be rolled over into the existing Low Income Housing Tax Credit program the following year.
Yet statistics pulled from U.S. Census data by the National Low Income Housing Coalition show the people at the very bottom of the economic ladder are facing the worst of the housing crisis.
Portland housing officials say tax breaks for the middle class—such as a single person making the median income of $51,310—aren’t a priority in a city where 81 percent of very low-income residents spend more than half their income on rent.
“It’s not a citywide problem in Portland,” says Portland Housing Bureau director Kurt Creager, though he notes some neighborhoods have become unaffordable for median-income households. The city hasn’t taken a position on Wyden’s bill—and Creager says he’s reluctant to criticize Wyden.
“We’d like to work with Sen. Wyden on a creative solution,” he adds.
Already, federal and state tax codes assist home-owners with the mortgage interest deduction, the largest public subsidy program for housing in the country.
In Oregon, the tax filers who claim the largest bulk of that subsidy are those that need it least. In all, 34.4 percent of the $500 million spent each year on the deduction goes to households earning more than $119,000 a year.
But a tax incentive to create housing for middle-income earners would be new.
Portland’s housing crunch has certainly hit middle-income residents hard.
Nearly a quarter of Portland residents earning from 81 to 100 percent of the median are spending upward of 30 percent of their income on rent, according to National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The advocates acknowledge Wyden has championed low-income housing, including an expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Yet they argue Wyden’s bill isn’t directing federal aid to the people who need it most.
Tom Cusack, a retired federal official from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Portland, agrees with Wyden’s critics.
“With limited resources,” Cusack says, “you ought to do the most to help the people with the greatest need.”
We come not to bury Donald Trump, but to praise Hillary Clinton.
The Donald has already delivered his own eulogy, on tape. Remarks uncovered last week, in which he brags about committing sexual assault, confirm for the willfully ignorant (and some in the Republican Party, including Oregon Rep. Greg Walden) what anyone paying attention has known for a year: Trump is a bully, a predator, and a silver-spoon racist who asks his supporters to join him in the sewer. What’s most frightening about his candidacy is how many people are willing to sink to his level.
Trump is a pestilence and not even the second-best candidate running for president. Despite his gaffes, Libertarian Gary Johnson would be better. For all her arrogance and pseudo-scientific drivel, Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein also makes Trump look like an apprentice.
Yet there is reason for measured optimism that America can recover from this repulsive election. That’s because Hillary Rodham Clinton ranks among the steadiest, most experienced and capable people ever to seek the White House.
From her earliest years in public life, Clinton has forged partnerships and exercised diplomacy, even while her detractors unleashed toxic, sexually charged attacks against a woman in power. She may lack her husband’s folksy charm, but she is equally substantive and far better behaved.
Her work as first lady on health care reform was decades ahead of its time. Her rise as a member of the U.S. Senate from New York showed her policy chops, especially fighting for equal pay and new access to lifesaving drugs. She excelled at working across the aisle with Republicans.
Her record as secretary of state was decidedly mixed—hawkishness on Syria was a terrible misstep, and the email scandal an unforced error—but was also marked by restoring America’s reputation for thoughtfulness after it was sabotaged by the Bush-Cheney wars. Keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, normalizing relations with Cuba and helping coordinate the raid that killed Osama bin Laden are no mean feats.
In the Democratic primary, we endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and we recognize that for many of Sanders’ most fervent supporters, Clinton’s coziness with the D.C. establishment feels like a sellout of progressive principles to Wall Street insiders.
To them we say: This election is a binary choice. Her or Donald.
Clinton’s flaws are real. She has compromised with big banks, fought unwise wars and conflated her own success with social good. Yet she has also made the nation safer and more equal, and has shown viable judgment and poise in the midst of circumstances that would reduce most humans to quivering Jell-O.
The world changes for the better with incremental victories—except, of course, when it falls drastically backward into fascism. That threat is real in this election. Trump is a poison who could destroy America’s self-respect and our standing in the world. The antidote is a practiced, proficient leader of unusual tenacity and calm.
It’s an easy decision. Hillary Clinton must be our next president.
Despite his annual barnstorming of every county in Oregon, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden can seem a distant and patrician figure, especially compared to his salt-of-the-earth junior colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Yet Wyden’s 20-year Senate record shows an eagerness to plunge into the gritty details of policy, from loosening libel laws to keep speech free on social media to preserving the state’s pioneering Death With Dignity Act from Republican right-to-life ghouls.
Wyden, 67, also ranks among the nation’s half-dozen loudest voices demanding accountability from the federal government’s surveillance apparatus. That’s a battle that pitted him against President Barack Obama and the National Security Agency—formidable foes he’s been willing to challenge over and over again, demanding American citizens’ right to live without their own government tapping their phones and reading their call histories. Wyden is fighting a lonely fight, and an important one. He would disagree, but this is the closest you can get to voting for Edward Snowden.
For Wyden’s two challengers on the left, this election is a referendum on free trade, especially the much-reviled Trans-Pacific Partnership deal Wyden supported. One of these candidates is among the most impressive newcomers to this election cycle: Shanti Lewallen, 36, a Portland longshoreman moonlighting as an employment lawyer and running as the Working Families Party nominee. Lewallen, who hails from a California family of seaweed harvesters, admits he’s running mostly to keep the small party on future ballots, but he also offers a cogent critique of Wyden’s trade votes—we don’t agree with the whole of his analysis, but we admire the measured passion with which he makes it. We hope to see Lewallen back on the ballot soon in a more modestly scaled race.
Ashland organic farmer Eric Navickas, the Pacific Green and Progressive parties’ nominee, is running on the platform that “capitalism has failed.” He also hates the TPP, but his rhetoric feels overblown. Independent Stephen Reynolds is running with a grab bag of ideas, and the Republican, Mark Callahan, who has previously disrupted interviews and demonstrated an arrogance that is exceeded only by his ignorance, deserves no one’s support.
The jury is still out on whether Wyden’s votes on trade were wise. He responds with some good arguments about Oregon ultimately benefiting from the TPP; we hope to have results to judge when he returns in 2022. Meanwhile, he remains far above any of his challengers. Send him back to D.C. for another round of fights with the NSA.
What reality show would Wyden compete on? Real Training Camp on NBA TV. “I very much wanted to play in the NBA.”
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, 61, has brought welcome stability to a district that was reeling from the public implosion of then-Rep. David Wu in 2011. Her work on Capitol Hill in the five years since replacing Wu has often been unglamorous but necessary. She retooled No Child Left Behind to make testing less prescriptive, sent federal dollars to the Oregon Coast for new tsunami-warning systems, and brokered a compromise with Republicans in the House to keep climate-change research funded.
We’d like to see Bonamici take tougher stances. Her support for legal cannabis, for example, is squishy. But as a junior member of a badly outnumbered Democratic Party in D.C., she’s picking up wins where she can.
Her Republican challenger, Brian Heinrich, 40, is a truck salesman from Dundee with a less nuanced approach to federal government: He wants to make it disappear. Heinrich’s a nice guy, but his only substantive proposal is a balanced-budget amendment. Bonamici’s a better thinker, and the right choice.
What reality show would Bonamici compete on? “No question, I would be on Chopped. I love to cook. I don’t use recipes.”
Oregon’s political marriage to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer is entering its 21st year (and that’s if you’re not counting his earlier stints as a Portland city commissioner and state legislator). Adding those elected terms to the tally brings the duration of this relationship to 44 years.
As in any marriage, we feel the weight of the accumulated decades.
At times, Blumenauer, 68, can grate. He represents one of the safest seats in America for a Democrat and in 2016 has zero credible opponents. Yet in this cycle, he’s sitting on more than $1 million in campaign contributions, including hefty checks from corporate bigwigs whose values aren’t exactly in line with those of Little Beirut.
Trouble is, our wandering eye sees nothing better in the field.
Opponent David Delk of the Progressive Party is a single-issue candidate who opposes free trade agreements. That’s a common theme this election cycle—something we’re hearing lots about on the national slate. On this topic, though, Oregon isn’t like the rest of the nation. It’s a trade-rich state that benefits more than others from the terms of international trade deals. We wouldn’t trade Blumenauer for Delk.
His second opponent, David Walker of the Independent Party, is a family nurse practitioner with sharp words for Blumenauer on the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act—and Blumenauer’s record of taking campaign cash from the health care industry. We don’t doubt Walker’s sincerity or his criticisms about Obamacare. We just don’t think he has the political chops to make any meaningful change in Washington.
Blumenauer may not bring us roses anymore. But he’s the best-qualified candidate to help fix the flaws of the Affordable Care Act and fight the effects of global warming. He’s also shown an unmatched devotion to ending America’s war on cannabis—including sticking up for Devontre Thomas, the Native American teenager prosecuted for possessing a gram of marijuana by the U.S. attorney for Oregon. Blumenauer’s advocacy helped pressure prosecutors into dropping the ridiculous case.
This is no time to say goodbye, Earl. Stick with Blumenauer.
What reality show would Blumenauer compete on? “My daily experience with C-SPAN is more bizarre than any reality TV show.”
When Kurt Schrader, a veterinarian, served in the Oregon Senate, he co-chaired the Joint Ways and Means Committee and had an uneasy relationship with Democratic Party interest groups, including trial lawyers and unions. He’s continued that independence in four terms in Congress, representing a district that stretches from the central coast to Salem and Portland.
He’s established a reputation as moderate and, according to a 2015 Washington Post ranking, is one of the 10 most effective members of the House, as measured by their ability to move substantive bills through Congress. He’s bucked unions to support the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and helped pass ag and transportation funding bills that send cash to Oregon. As chairman of a House small-business subcommittee, Schrader, 65, wrote and passed a bill that generated billions in new loans, and he helped site the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific fleet in Newport.
His Republican challenger, Colm Willis, is a newly minted lawyer from Stayton. He lacks political experience—and what experience he does offer as a former political director of Oregon Right to Life makes us say prayers of thanks for Schrader’s drab moderation. Marvin Sandnes of the Pacific Green Party is also running.
What reality show would Schrader compete on? He says he’d like to give Donald Trump a piece of his mind on The Apprentice.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
“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.
Spurred by Sunday’s mass shooting that killed 49 people in Orlando, Fla., the Senate Democrats took to the floor Wednesday morning for what would become a nearly 15-hour filibuster. The goal: stop Senate Republicans from removing gun-control provisions that were tacked on two unrelated spending bills.
Among the voices of the filibuster were Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).
Wyden called upon the Senate to close multiple loopholes in the nation’s gun laws and to “close the pipeline for illegal guns.”
Here’s the video of Wyden’s speech.
Merkley gave two speeches. Here’s the transcript of the second, which occurred late Wednesday night.
Senator Merkley: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to ask a question of my colleague from Connecticut.
Earlier I came to the floor and I was reflecting on the connection between Connecticut and Oregon in terms of the shooting in Sandy Hook and the shooting we had last year at Umpqua Community College, the 10 individuals who were killed at Umpqua Community College. But as I was pondering during the day, my head was going further back in time to 1998 when I was running for my first race for State legislature. Our primary was held May 19 of that year, and I was immersed in this primary. I was running a race against two former State representatives and the head of the water district, and I was the individual who had never run for office and never held office, and I assumed I would lose. But on May 19 when the results came in, I had won the primary.
Two days later, on May 21, a young man who had been expelled from his school–his name was Kip Kinkel–Thurston High School in Springfield, OR, took the guns from his house. He murdered his parents. He proceeded to go to Thurston High School. He had with him a 9mm Glock. He had a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, he had a .22-caliber Mark II pistol, and he had 1,127 rounds of ammunition. His goal was to shoot as many students, to kill as many students as he could. He shot a lot of students. Two died and twenty-five were wounded. As he exhausted the ammunition in his semiautomatic rifle, he had to reload the magazine, and as he did that, he was tackled by one student who was already wounded, six others piled on, and the carnage ended. But he had only begun to tap into the 1,127 rounds of ammunition he was carrying. Thank goodness that individual, that student, Jacob Ryker, succeeded in stopping him when he was reloading that rifle.
The year went on. November was the general election. I was elected to the Oregon House. The Oregon House came into session in January of 1999, and we said: It is time to fix the background check system we have in our State. It is time to close the gun show loophole.
What makes no sense is to have this background check system when you go to a gun store and then no background check system when you go to a gun show. And we knew that many people who had felony backgrounds were seeking to acquire guns. We knew that many people who were deeply mentally disturbed were seeking weapons. They were being turned away at the gun store, and they were going to the gun show or they were going to the classifieds. So we tried to pass that bill to close that background loophole, the gun show loophole, and we failed. We could not muster the majority, just as this body has not been able to muster the majority to address the complete illogic of this situation.
Then the citizens of Oregon took this into their own hands. They petitioned for an initiative. They put it on the ballot, and the citizens of Oregon voted overwhelmingly–by a huge margin–they voted overwhelmingly to close the gun show loophole. But it would be many years later–not until 2015–that the legislature would take the additional step of closing the classified ads loophole, or the Craig’s List loophole, as it is often called.
So in Oregon, if you go to a gun store or a gun show or to a Craig’s List listing, you have to go through a background check. But someone who is turned away in Oregon can go to any of a number of States across our country, bypass that background check, buy those guns, and come back to our home State.
It makes no sense to have a national system without national effectiveness. And I so much appreciate my colleagues being here tonight to talk about this, to talk about the fact that those who are on a terrorist list should be on a list to deny guns, and that those who are denied guns–to have it effectively, you have to have a background check system.
My State is a State that loves guns. We are a State with incredible wilderness. People love to hunt. They love to target practice. They love to just shoot guns. And they love the Second Amendment and nature. But they voted for the background check system because they knew it didn’t make sense to have guns in the hands of felons or deeply disturbed individuals because of the carnage that comes from that.
There is another story I wanted to share that is related to 1998. This story fast-forwards from the primary election in May to the general election in October, November. So it was as we were approaching that first Tuesday in November, the general election, which would be held November 3. The day was October 6, so roughly a month away–a month before–a young man named Matthew Wayne Shepard was offered a ride home by two other young men, Eric McKinney and Russell Henderson. They didn’t give him a ride home. They took him out to a very rural area near Laramie, WY. They tied him to a fence because he was gay. They robbed him, they pistol-whipped him, they tortured him, and they left him there to die. It was 18 hours later that a bicyclist riding past saw this young man still tied to a fence. The bicyclist thought that Matthew Wayne Shepard was a scarecrow but went to investigate, realized it was a young man, and proceeded to get help. Matthew was extremely damaged. His skull was fractured, his brain stem absolutely inflamed. He never regained consciousness. He died six days later.
It was a hate crime that rocked the Nation. It was a hate crime that shocked the conscience. These crimes were happening with some regularity–these hate crimes against our LGBT community–but this one caught the attention of the Nation, and a bill was crafted, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. That bill was championed by my predecessor in office, Gordon Smith, but it didn’t get passed until I came to the Senate in 2009–not because I came but because it took that long to build the support on the foundation that others had laid in the years before. So we passed that hate crimes act, but the hate crimes act doesn’t stop the discrimination against the LGBT community. It doesn’t stop the promotion of hate.
I am going to be submitting a resolution, and I thought I would read it tonight. It is a resolution that Senator Mark Kirk has agreed to cosponsor, that Senator Baldwin has agreed to cosponsor, that Senator Cory Booker has agreed to cosponsor, and I hope many others will join us in this.
It says the following:
(1) Equal treatment and protection under the law is one of the most cherished constitutional principles of the United States of America.
(2) Laws in many parts of the country still fail to explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ….. individuals.
The failure to actively oppose and prohibit discrimination leaves our LGBT individuals vulnerable based on who they are or whom they love; vulnerable to being evicted from their homes; vulnerable to being denied credit or other financial services; vulnerable to being refused basic services in public places, such as restaurants or shops, or terminated from employment or otherwise discriminated against in employment.
(4) To allow discrimination to persist is incompatible with the founding principles of this country.
(5) Failure to ensure that all people of the United States are treated equally allows a culture of hate against some people in the United States to fester.
(6) This hate culture includes continuing physical assaults and murders committed against LGBT individuals, and particularly against transgender individuals, in the United States.
(7) The events that transpired on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, were a horrifying and tragic act of hate and terror that took the lives of 49 innocent individuals and injured 53 more. The victims were targeted because of who they were, who they loved, or who they associated with.
(b) It is the sense of Congress that–
(1) it is time to end discrimination against LGBT individuals and stand against the culture of hatred and prejudice that such discrimination allows;
(2) it is incumbent on policymakers to ensure that LGBT individuals benefit from the full protection of the civil rights laws of the Nation; and
(3) Congress commits to take every action necessary to make certain that all people in the United States are treated and protected equally under the law.
That is the philosophy embedded in our Constitution–equal treatment and equal opportunity. It is the spirit of anti-discrimination that is our higher self that we should treat each individual with respect, each individual with dignity. It is the principle of opportunity for all that cannot take place when discrimination interferes. It is the spirit that we have carried along a long journey–a journey in which we have reached out to embrace individuals who were excluded.
Our original practices in this Nation operated under the vision of full opportunity for all, but it was a flawed vision. It was a vision that didn’t include Native Americans. It was a vision that at that time didn’t include individuals who were minorities. It was a vision that at that time didn’t include women. But over time we have reached out and started to make that incredible picture portrayed in our founding documents and in the hearts of our Founders a reality. We have done so in step by step along an arc. It was Martin Luther King who said that “the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” But that bending takes place because ordinary mortals say they are determined to make it happen. They apply themselves to that effort, whether in their everyday life with the individuals they encounter and work with and live with and worship with and recreate with or in the lives of legislators who work within their institutions to say: We are changing hearts, but let’s change our laws as well.
We have the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a foundation, a milestone, an anchor, a foundation of laws against discrimination, but when you read the 1964 act, you don’t see any protections for our LGBT community. Now many of us have put forward a law called the Equality Act that would remedy that, that would use the foundation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to extend full equality for the LGBT community.
It is unbelievable that today in America you can get married to someone you love in the morning and announce it in the afternoon and be fired from your job–legally fired from your job or evicted from your apartment before nightfall because your marriage demonstrates that you are gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual. Some States have remedied that, but we haven’t done it as a nation. And when you have a legal structure that embraces discrimination, that fosters a culture of discrimination among some. Let’s end that. Let’s end that structure of law. Let’s pass the Equality Act.
I am sure it will be sometime before they call up the act in hearing in committee. That shouldn’t be the case on something so profound, so important. It should have had a hearing right after it was introduced, and we will keep pushing for that hearing. We hope it can get to the floor, but in the meantime, let’s stand behind a sense-of-the-Senate that it is way past time for us to address this issue of discrimination that fosters this culture of hatred. We saw that culture in full demonstration the night of October 6, 1998, when Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, brutally assaulted, tortured, and left to die. We saw that culture of hatred in Orlando, FL, with the deaths of so many beautiful young people on that tragic night.
So we have before us two challenges. Let’s address simple measures that can make a difference–that terrorists shouldn’t have access to guns and that we should have a background check system that actually works, so gun shows and classified ads are treated the same as a purchase at a gun shop.
Let’s decrease the size of the magazines. When Kip Kinkel took 1,127 rounds of ammunition and 3 guns to his school to kill as many of his schoolmates as he could, he was stopped because he ran out of ammunition and had to reload, and those 2 seconds gave a fellow student, Jacob Ryker, an opportunity to tackle him. He probably saved dozens of lives that day.
We have the challenge before us of these simple improvements in our background check system, in our terrorist list, and in our gun magazines, but we also need to end the discrimination that is embedded in the law that treats millions of Americans as second-class citizens and can foster among some, unfortunately, and contribute to a culture of hatred against those individuals. So let’s do both.
Tonight I am so honored to be here with my colleagues sharing in this joint effort to say enough is enough. Let’s not hide from these issues. Let’s have a vote on these issues. Let’s be accountable to our constituents on these issues. That will not happen if my colleague from Connecticut cannot get a vote on the proposal he is putting forward.
I wish this room right now had every desk filled. The beautiful speeches my colleagues have been giving, the reflections, the insight, the wisdom, the earnestness, the grief. But the room is not full. We need our colleagues in the majority to join us in this conversation that affects the lives of so many people in America.
What happened in Orlando, FL, not only killed 49 individuals, but it shattered their families, it shattered the community, and it shattered and reverberated throughout this Nation. And this–perhaps not to the same degree, but this type of violence goes on and on and on.
I believe my colleague from Connecticut has said that a major event of this nature, of multiple deaths, occurs every month. If you look at the events of person-on-person violence, if you look at what happens in our cities across this country, our rural areas across this country, every day there are acts of violence. Every day there are acts of hate crimes against our LGBT community. So let’s do both of these.
We ask and we hope that citizens across the country will weigh in with those Senators who may not be here tonight and may not have been here this afternoon and may not have been here when this conversation started over 12 hours ago; that they might hear at least a reverberation, that the thoughts issued here reverberate back through the country and come back in those phone calls and in those letters to our colleagues’ offices; that they might be aware and they might read the stories so many citizens could tell of an incident that might have been averted if we had a better system of laws on background checks and if we got rid of the discrimination embedded in our laws in this country.
So I ask my colleague from Connecticut, is it your hope, is it your aspiration that this body will indeed embrace and have a full dialogue–not just one side of the aisle but on both sides of the aisle–and that will lead to votes on these very significant proposals so that we can act to make America a better place?
Here’s the full transcript of Wyden’s speech.
Senator Wyden: I want to begin by thanking my friends Senator Murphy, Senator Booker and Senator Blumenthal for what they have done today.
Here’s the bottom line for me. Mass shootings are now happening like clockwork in America. Thurston, Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, Roseburg, Orlando. Communities are being torn apart by unspeakable gun violence like clockwork. In this building, we come together for moments of silence honoring the victims of these shootings like clockwork.
And like clockwork, again, Congress does nothing about it.
While I was home last month, I visited Umpqua Community College, just outside of Roseburg, which was the site of a horrible shooting eight months ago. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in our history as a nation. What I saw at Umpqua Community College, what I heard from the people at that school and the families in that community, is probably a lot like what my friends from Connecticut see and hear in Newtown, about how the suffering doesn’t go away.
The one-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston is fast approaching, and I’m quite sure it’s the same feeling for people in South Carolina. The trauma, the process of mourning, rebuilding, and trying to move forward from the enveloping grief — it’s a horrendous common experience that so many of our communities now share.
The reality is, the trauma does not vanish. The news cameras will eventually leave Orlando, just like they left Roseburg. The bullet holes in that nightclub will get patched up. The families and friends of the victims will try to live their lives as best they can, as will Orlando’s LGBTQ community. But trauma does not vanish.
There’s no perfect solution to fix this crisis, but trauma should be followed up in some way with a debate, with a plan, with some specific, concrete steps that can begin to lay out an answer.
The idea of following up more moments of silence with more inaction is not good enough. There are common-sense steps the Congress can take now.
Those who’ve argued that the only possible response to this shooting in Orlando can come in a war zone thousands of miles away are looking for excuses not to do something meaningful, not to do anything, here at home.
There are steps that can be taken now to curb this violence. They won’t stop every last crime, and unfortunately a lot of these ideas have been discussed before, but the victims of these shootings are owed a response.
First is an issue I know my colleagues have already talked about this afternoon. Senator Feinstein has put forward a proposal to close the dangerous, terrorist gun loophole. In my view it’s a sensible step – common sense. People shouldn’t look at that as a partisan issue. Americans want to know why anyone would vote to allow individuals suspected of terrorist ties and motivations to purchase regulated firearms.
Next, the loopholes in background checks must be closed. It is way past time to stop allowing the purchase of a gun online or at a gun show without a background check. The background checks themselves must be substantially improved. There are holes that need to be plugged, including those that keep guns in the hands of convicted domestic abusers.
Once and for all, Congress needs to close off the pipeline for illegal guns. Straw purchasing and gun trafficking should be federal crimes.
The Senator from Connecticut and I have also been strong advocates of beefing up the research into gun violence. The ban in place today defies common sense. It makes no sense at all to block the CDC from gathering information that could help keep our communities and our families safe.
Finally I want to address something that’s more personal. My late brother suffered from a serious mental illness. Not a day went by that I didn’t worry that he, a schizophrenic, would be out on the streets and would hurt himself or somebody else. That was the reality for my family. It is time to establish, once and for all, a system through which individuals who are found to be a potential threat to themselves or others can receive the treatment that they need.
A majority of Americans find these kinds of common sense gun safety measures not to be ones that infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners or violate the second amendment. A majority of gun owners think that these proposals make sense.
So I’ll turn to my friend Senator Murphy from Connecticut to ask a question. Senator Feinstein’s proposal, of course, is designed to prevent those on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun. Numbers have been thrown around repeatedly about the sum total of people this would actually impact. And I know that the GAO has looked into this. Can you tell me how many people on this watch list have been able to buy a gun?
Senator Murphy: Thank you, Senator Wyden for the question. It’s a really important one because the number in certain ways is shocking for how high it is and how low it is at the same time.
Let’s take 2015. In 2015 there were 244 individuals who are on the terrorist watch list who attempted to buy weapons, and 223 of those were successful in buying the weapon. In 90 percent of the occasions that someone on the watch list attempted to buy a weapon, they walked out of that store with the weapon.
It gives you a sense of the scope. There are only 224 people, over the course of the whole year that were on the terrorist watch list that attempted to buy a weapon, but what we know from this weekend is that it only takes one in order to create a path of death and destruction that is almost impossible to calculate.
It’s just impossible for the American public to understand how that number persists, how we allow for 90 percent of the people on that watch list to walk into a store and to successfully buy a weapon. That’s the number from 2015, 223 out of 244 they were successful. I yield back for a question.
Senator Wyden: I thank my colleague. I’ll just wrap up by way of saying that it seems to me that what has been learned here is that while the investigation goes on, this may have been a terrorist attack, this may have been a hate-inspired attack. My question is, aren’t the steps that I’ve outlined here today common sense, practical steps, whether it is a hate- or terror- inspired attack? We’ve seen the human toll that discrimination takes against those who are targeted on the basis of hate. We’ve seen what it means to families who have been struck by terror. Aren’t these common sense legislative efforts that make sense whether this has been primarily a terror attack or a hate-inspired attack?
Senator Murphy: I thank the gentleman for the question. They are common sense measures and measures supported by the broad cross-section of the American public. What you are proposing is only controversial here in the United States Senate. It’s controversial nowhere else in this country.
With two days to go before ballots are due in Oregon’s presidential primary, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) is campaigning hard to get out the vote … in Kentucky.
But the candidate took a break in Paducah, Ky., on Sunday morning to call WW to urge more Oregonians to vote, saying high turnout will be the key to victory for his underdog campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We will win in Oregon if voter turnout is high,” he says. “We will lose in Oregon if voter turnout is low.”
In his brief interview with WW, Sanders talked about everything from gun control to NSA spying, public campaign finance, tuition-free college—and what kind of tattoo he would get. Hint: It has wings.
WW: If you were elected president, what would your attitude be towards states such as Oregon that have legalized recreational marijuana?
Sanders: In Vermont, if there were a vote to legalize marijuana, I would vote for it. When you talk about reforming the criminal justice system, we also have to talk about taking marijuana out of the federal Controlled Substance Act, where it’s now considered a Schedule I drug. I’ve got legislation that would take it out so the possession of marijuana would not be a federal crime.
WW: Oregon has no limit on campaign contributions. So a candidate for Oregon Secretary of State recently took a $250,000 contribution from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. What do you think of that?
Sanders: I think it’s a terrible idea. We have a corrupt campaign finance system in which billionaires are able to buy elections. And that is not what American democracy is about, so one of my major priorities as president would be to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United and in fact move to public funding of elections. Billionaires should not buy elections.
Sanders: Well, Jeff is one of the most progressive members of the United States Senate. People should understand he’s doing a great job for them in the Senate. Obviously, Jeff Merkley would be somebody I would give very strong consideration to for positions.
WW: In all seriousness, what did his endorsements mean to you?
Sanders: It’s very good. Actually, we are taking on the entire Democratic establishment. Jeff is the only person in the United States Senate to have endorsed me, so I appreciate that very much. We have won 19 states so far in this process. We hope Oregon will be the 20th. But we have been very strongly opposed by the Democratic establishment, and I very much appreciate that Senator Merkley had the courage to be the only member of the United States Senate to publicly endorse me.
WW: What advice did he give you about Oregon?
Sanders: Just be true to one’s self. Oregon is one of the most progressive states in this country. And I’m one of the most, if not the most, progressive member of the United States Senate. And if we tell the people of Oregon what we believe in—raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition free, pay equity for women, making sure the wealthiest people and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes, rebuilding our infrastructure—I think those are issues that resonate in Oregon.
WW: I notice that you’re saying Orygun not Ore-gone. Is that because you caught flak for mispronouncing it before?
Sanders: I think I know it. (Laughs) I know how to pronounce it.
WW: Oregon has been the site in recent years of three mass shootings. You’ve been criticized by your opponent as being weak on gun control issues. Why should someone in Oregon who wants more limits on guns vote for you?
Sanders: That’s not an accurate characterization of my position. Back in 1988, when I ran for Congress from Vermont, I proposed and supported a ban on assault weapons. This was in 1988, before it was popular. And I was opposed by all of the gun groups in Oregon for that vote. I strongly support what President Obama is going to do to expand and improve the instant background check on people who should not have guns—people with criminal backgrounds or emotional issues. I strongly support doing away with the gun-show loophole, making the so-called straw-man provision a federal crime. People who check my record will find it a very strong record.
WW: Are you as concerned as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about Big Brother and the NSA’s power of surveillance?
Sanders: Yes, I voted against the U.S. Patriot Act, and I voted against the re-authorization of the U.S. Patriot Act. And I think we need public policy to keep up with the incredible changes in technology which now give both the government and private corporations significant ability to know much more about us. We have got to be vigorous in protecting our privacy rights. Sen. Wyden has done a very good job in that regard.
WW: What’s the biggest difference between you and Hillary Clinton on an Oregon-specific issue?
Sanders: The biggest difference is that I believe we should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. She thinks it should be raised to $12 an hour. I don’t have a Super PAC receiving millions of dollars from Wall Street as does Secretary Clinton. I vote against and led the opposition against the war in Iraq. Secretary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq.
WW: One last question. We asked the same one of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? If you don’t like the idea of getting a tattoo, pretend you’re under duress.
Sanders: If under duress I had to get a tattoo, what would it be? A bird. A Portland bird.
WW: Anything else you want to say?
Sanders: I think we will win in Oregon if voter turnout is high. We will lose in Oregon if voter turnout is low. There are just two days left in which people can bring their ballots into the ballot boxes, and I would hope very much that in one of the most progressive states in this country, we win and we win a strong victory. But that’s not going to happen unless large numbers come out to vote. I hope very much Oregonians come out in big numbers and we can win a good victory on Tuesday.