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TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oregon senator Jeff Merkley answers a question during a townhall at Beaverton High.About 300 people packed Beaverton High School's cafeteria Monday afternoon to give local voice to national issues as U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici held a join town hall meeting.


In addition to ongoing conversations about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and the effects of burning fossil fuels on global climate came the more recent immigration debate — fueled by attacks in Paris — on whether the U.S. should cut off or more tightly restrict immigration from Syria and other areas besieged by extremists.

“Absolutely we need to do everything we can do to keep our country safe,” said Bonamici, though she and Merkley both believe a current push by lawmakers to bar Syrian immigration won’t thwart an actual route terrorists use to reach American soil and instead will fuel those who would argue America is anti-Islam.

Merkley said such an approach is akin to carving “out the words at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty,” presumably referring to the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the monument’s pedestal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. …”

The two Democrats spoke to a largely like-minded audience on that issue that also applauded measures to curb gun violence and global warming, and to boost support for education and affordable housing.TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici answers a question during a townhall at Beaverton High.

But both danced around somewhat when asked about the TPP.

“I do myself have some significant concerns,” Bonamici said about the proposal, which is currently under public review. “We want to be exporting goods, not jobs.”

Both she and Merkley said they would review the language carefully before voting, but neither promised an up or down vote.

Merkley won applause for his recently proposed Keep It in the Ground Act that would halt new leases for oil and gas extraction from federal lands, but he also drew fire for supporting Coos Bay’s bid as an export terminal for natural gas, which he described as inevitable somewhere on the West Coast.

As the session ran down, Breast Friends cofounder Becky Olson asked Merkley to join Bonamici in fighting against a recommendation that women delay their first breast cancer screenings from 40 until age 50.

“If that is allowed to happen,” Olson told them, “many women will die.”

Merkley said he would research the issue and was likely to agree.

With control of the microphone, Merkley had the last word. Without a question to prompt it, he spent his final words railing against Citizens United, a conservative non-profit that Merkley characterized as a tiny minority, including Koch family, that uses extreme wealth to purchase political power.

“This is not ‘We the people democracy,’” he said. “This is ‘We the few titans democracy.’”

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