U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) made news last week by reading a 30-year-old letter.
The letter was penned in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, the civil rights champion and widow of Martin Luther King Jr. It asked the Senate to reject Jeff Sessions as a federal judge, because he had engaged in voter intimidation. That plea became newly relevant as the Senate debated Feb. 7 whether to confirm Sessions, President Trump's nominee for U.S. attorney general. (It did.)
Senate Republicans squelched Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) from reading the letter by claiming she had broken a rule against "impugning" the reputation of fellow senators.
But Merkley picked up where Warren left off—earning her thanks and cementing his place among the loudest anti-Trump voices on Capitol Hill.
WW: How did you decide to read Coretta Scott King's letter?
Jeff Merkley: I said, "Can I get a copy?" I got a copy from [Warren]. The sentence she was accosted by the majority leader over was this sentence: "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters." After I talked to the parliamentarian, I realized they were on very thin ice. So when I read the letter, I skipped some of the direct references to Sessions.
Are the protests against President Trump having an effect in D.C.?
Absolutely. Republicans have seen a massive turnout in the streets, rejecting his policies. They're saying, 'Oh my goodness, we'd better not mess up our health care system.' Take my office. Last week, we had 37,000 letters, and our phones never stopped ringing. That's happening in every single Senate office. The calls are 90 percent-plus against the activities of the administration.
Are there any areas—any at all—where Trump might be good for Oregon?
[Long, long pause] I agree with him that we need to level the playing field on trade. We have been deeply damaged not only by the loss of factories but the loss of supply chains for those factories. By the downward pressure on workers' wages when they go overseas—the middle class has been savaged by that. He made that a big part of his campaign. And I share that view.
If you were Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, what would you focus on?
I'd most worry about the enormous budget shortfall in Oregon, which is going to have a cataclysmic effect on health care. Almost everything the state does has some form of federal support. Until a couple of days ago, Trump said he was going to take the cost of drugs on. Then he spent an hour with the big pharmaceutical companies and said, "I'm going to be dropping the effort."
So much for draining the swamp.
The things that resonated for much of America were his promises to help workers, take on Wall Street and drain the swamp. He's been doing nothing but helping Wall Street, hurting workers and filling the swamp. You wouldn't believe it if it were written in a novel.