U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) hasn't yet announced his bid for the presidency. But, as a stump speech the politician gave in Iowa in Thursday proves, it's probably just a matter of time until he does.
Merkley was one of six speakers invited to speak at a holiday party for Progress Iowa, a statewide progressive advocacy group in one of the nation's earliest presidential primary states.
In his remarks, he outlined the issues he seeks to run on: decriminalizing immigration, fighting climate change, and addressing economic disparities.
"There are three things that really keep me up at night," Merkley said. "In the grand vision of America we are so far off track."
He continued with harsh critiques of immigrant detention centers in Texas—calling them child prisons and internment camps—and told a story of his request to the Trump administration to recognize the quinceañera of one young Honduran housed there.
"The Trump team leading that internment camp said no," he said. "So I took a big card and had about three dozen senators sign it. We're sending it to her […] to let that young woman know that she is not forgotten and all the other children trapped in Trump's prison system are not forgotten either."
At another point, Merkley called for action against climate change, pulling out from behind the podium a blue hat with the slogan "Make the Earth Cool Again," embroidered in the Donald Trump "Make America Great Again" fashion.
"Let's elect folks who understand that our planet is at risk and this generation has to be the one to stop it and we have to do it now to get to 100 percent clean and renewable energy," he said.
Merkley recently appeared to abandon seeking a law change to run for both U.S. senator and president on the same ballot. But that hasn't quashed his ambitions. At the Progress Iowa event, speakers were described as "national progressive leaders and potential Presidential candidates." Merkley fit that bill.
WW transcribed Merkley's speech at the Progress Iowa event, which in full paints a picture of the platform the Senator seeks to run on.
Read it here:
"Thank you all. Man. I gotta tell ya, Progress Oregon—er, Progress Iowa—just keeps growing—as does Progress Oregon. But the numbers. My goodness. 75,000 now in the Progress Iowa network, and social media reaching 8.3 million. Go Iowa. And Cindy [Finkenauer] and Abby [Axne] coming, tripling the power of the Iowa Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives. Thank you.
You know, I'm so glad that all three of them are going and that Abby and Cindy are going to bring some light to that dark cloud hanging over our nation in the form of Donald Trump. And one piece of that darkness is really the horrible way that we are treating children who are fleeing persecution and seeking asylum here in the United States. It was six months ago that I went down to shine the light on child separation and the response from Americans was powerful. We stopped child separation. But this weekend I saw two other facets. I led a delegation down to look prison at Tornillo [Texas] and at family internment camps in Dilley [Texas] and I'll tell you what, neither child prison camps nor internment camps have any place in the United States of America.
I met this woman who was at the Dilley family internment camp who had been there six months with her 15-year-old daughter. Three days ago, Tuesday, was the daughter's 15th birthday, her quinceañera, a very big celebration for somebody coming from Honduras. And our delegation said, "Please, administration, hold a special event for her. Recognize her on her 15th birthday." And the Trump team leading that internment camp said no. So I took a big card and had about three dozen Senators sign it. We're sending it to her, and if you want to send her a card send it to the Dilley Pro Bono Project and let that young woman know that she is not forgotten and all the other children trapped in Trump's prison system are not forgotten either.
There are three things that really keep me up at night. In the grand vision of America we are so far off track. One of those is the corruption of our We the People Constitution, through gerrymandering, through voter suppression and through dark money. This is destroying that vision and resulting in government by and for the powerful. So the first order of business, in 2021, January, when we have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President, is to take on all three of those and restore the We the People vision of our Constitution that our founders intended and that we value and hold dear to our hearts. If we don't do that, we will lose all the other battles that we are fighting.
Battles, for example, like taking on carbon pollution and carbon pollution that's causing great destruction, whether it's forest fires in the northwest, whether it's the hurricanes in the southeast, whether it's more drought and more floods in between. It's affecting everywhere. We are the generation that has to stop it and we have to stop it quickly. So let's elect folks who understand that our planet is at risk and this generation has to be the one to stop it and we have to do it now to get to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. Make the earth cool again. Never stop fighting to build a better world because that's what we have to do now more than ever.
That leads us to the third massive challenge that we have, and that's the complete neglect of working families across this nation. In this kind of government by the people for the powerful, we saw, in 2017, we saw it though a tax bill that took a trillion and a half dollars out of the treasury. Add on interest it made it two trillion. And it was given to the wealthiest Americans and the most powerful corporations, making income inequality worse, making wealth inequality worse. How about instead we invest that in healthcare, and housing, and education and living wage jobs here in the United States of America.
Those are the four foundations on which we thrive, families thrive. Housing, a decent home and a decent community for each of our families here in the United States of America. We can afford that goal, that vision, and it puts a lot of people to work. We can afford the process of having a simple seamless healthcare, Medicare for all so that just by virtue of living in America you have healthcare.
Now, education is right at the foundation of opportunity. My father used to say, "Son, if you go through the doors of that school house and you work hard you can do just about anything here in the United States of America." That vision. Because we live in America. Opportunity, regardless of the status of your family, regardless of which side of the railroad tracks you live on—that's the vision. That vision of the American Dream that is being destroyed by the underfunding of education in every respect. Overcrowded classrooms, not enough shop classes, career technical education, apprenticeship programs, debt-free college so that no one has to worry about debt the size of a home mortgage when they have the opportunity to gain an education in college. Education is the future. Let's restore it to its place to drive our nation to being the best in the world.
And nothing makes a difference for a family like a living wage job. We have seen it eviscerated by bad trade policy and by the war on unions. We see that war on unions right here in Iowa more vividly than anywhere else. I have heard so many people say, "It's worse here than Wisconsin." How about restoring Iowa to being a state that absolutely puts the working family at the top, living wage jobs and fights to restore unions across this land.
My father said, "I'm so proud to be a machinist." He'd make sure every month we saw the newspaper that said, "Don't shop here. Do shop there to support good employers and the union movement so that everyone can has a fair share of the wealth they help to create." Because there's plenty of wealth. We're much wealthier than we were 40 years ago when I got out of high school. But how come it's so much harder for a family on education, on housing? How come it's so much harder? Because the system is rigged to send the money to the one percent. Let's un-rig it, or put differently, let's rig it for families to thrive here in the United States of America.
We don't win battles without being on the battlefield. We have the vision of David versus Goliath. The little guy against the big guy, and the little guy couldn't have won if he didn't get on the battlefield. And there are so many people who ran for office here in very difficult districts. Those who won get a lot of attention. But let's remember and applaud now those who ran and lost, but were on the battlefield fighting. We need more of them.
When I became Democratic leader in Oregon, we only had 25 out of 60 seats and people said, "we're going to be in the minority forever." I quit my job, we reorganized our recruitment, consultment, I fired all the consultants, we made them submit proposals to us. The result was, in two cycles we took the majority. And now we don't have 25 seats in the Oregon house, we have 38 out of 60, almost two-thirds. You all made such progress here, but you didn't get the majority. I know it's been a disappointment, but you know what, progress sets the foundation for taking the House and Senate in 2020 right here.
David, on the battlefield, had a sling. It was a partnership. Leaders who are elected need a grassroots partnership. We have to work the inside, we have to work the outside together. We have to restore We the People democracy. If we don't do it now I'm concerned that the income inequality and the power to pull the levers by the one percent become so strong we may not reclaim it. So let's do it right now, in the next two years of 2020. God bless you. Let's get on the fight."