Sen. Jeff Merkley

Merkley At Bat

Jeff Merkley discusses the future of the country and how to move forward

“So how do we get to third base?” Eugene Weekly asks Sen. Jeff Merkley in an interview.

The senator is using baseball as a metaphor for getting the country back “home” while navigating post-Trump America.

With less than a month until the election, Merkley is thinking ahead about how to restore balance to the country and its government during these divisive, political times. And though it’s a long road, he says he believes it’s possible.

Though Merkley is up for re-election, he says he’s more focused on supporting other important Senate elections around the country, hoping to turn some states blue in November. Merkley is running for his third term as a U.S. senator from Oregon, and is polling at a comfortable 20 points ahead of his Republican opponent, Jo Rae Perkins, who is best known for her ties to the baseless QAnon conspiracy. Merkley shared his ideas on bridging political gaps and turning America around. He says it starts with voting out Republicans.

Merkley likens the pivot needed in America to scoring in a baseball game. In baseball, he explains, you have to go through the different bases in order to make it home. First base, Merkley says, is the election on Nov. 3.

“We need a blue Senate, a blue House, a blue Oval Office to make a pivot,” He says. “And that pivot is from the government by and for the powerful to government by and for the people.”

Second base, he says, is unrigging the Senate. It needs to be more unbiased, he says, and once the Senate is “unrigged,” it needs to work on making elections more fair. This means working to undo voter suppression, gerrymandering and dark money, Merkley says. And voting-by-mail will help eliminate some of these intimidation tactics, he says.

As seen already in this election, voter suppression is being used as a political tool. Merkley says not a single Republican will support voting integrity, because election obstruction is now a major strategy of the Republican party. 

He finishes the analogy by saying once these two bases are covered, third base would allow the government to start working on issues such as climate change, health care, immigration and jobs.

Merkley also commented on Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. He echoes other Democrats in the Senate in criticizing Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s push to get Barrett on the court after already setting a precedent not to debate or vote on Supreme Court nominees during an election year.

“This is a continuation of the damage to the integrity of the court for the entire Republican caucus that swore allegiance to this profound principle,” Merkley says. “But they all flipped. This deep principle had turned out to be nothing but a false story for power.”

Merkley adds that unless something dramatic happens, the confirmation vote will be before the election. He says if there is a massive rejection of Trumpism on election day, Republicans do not want to take any chances of Barrett not making it on the court. Essentially, they want to get the vote in before they no longer have the numbers.

Merkley has spoken out against the treatment of immigrants and the separation of families at the Mexican border. He says family separation is still an issue that needs to be fixed.

“They are using damage to children as a political strategy. I think it is one of the most dark and evil things that has happened in America in my lifetime,” he says. “And that will change dramatically with a new administration.

Going back to the baseball analogy, Merkley emphasizes that without having all the right players in office, Congress will not be able to pass reforms, specifically the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

And with climate change, Merkley says the U.S. has the opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world. Though helping mitigate climate change is a responsibility of the whole world, he says it’s a tragedy of the commons where many countries are working out of their own interest. “We have to act and be in partnership with the world,” he says, and hold one another accountable.

In looking at the polarized political climate, Merkley says the chasm is huge, and it will stay huge. A major component to this is the seemingly infinite number of media outlets people can gather their information from. 

“Most of red America is watching Fox News, and they see one world, and a lot of blue America is watching CNN or MSNBC, and they see a different world portrayed.” Merkely adds that he watches both and is “constantly astonished at the enormous gaps” in the stories that different Americans hear. 

Originally from the rural Oregon town of Myrtle Creek, the senator says that the divide between cities and rural America is also deepening the chasm between what different Americans believe.

Merkley adds that he’s had colleagues who say that although they may agree with him on a particular issue, Fox News is giving “their base” a totally different story. And they don’t want to alienate their base because they want to get re-elected, he says.

But what can bridge this gap? Merkley says it’s a theory called run-govern-run, something he picked up when he was Oregon’s Speaker of the House. He says instead of focusing on the next re-election, politicians need to use their time to follow through on what they said they would do, and see if that merits re-election. This is especially crucial if the Senate has a majority across all Congress. 

“If we, being Democrats, are elected to the Senate, we have to deliver on the issues we are talking about,” he says. “I think the American people who are electing us are saying, ‘Don’t just run ideals — get things done.’”