Merkley: Bipartisan opposition only hope to derail Trump nominee for high court
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley called for a bipartisan coalition in the Senate to block any U.S. Supreme Court nominee by President Donald Trump while he is still under wide-ranging investigations.
Trump expects Monday (July 9) to announce his choice to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring after 30 years — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has vowed a Senate vote this fall.
Merkley joined Gov. Kate Brown, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Planned Parenthood and others on Thursday, July 5, to resist the nominee on the presumption that Trump will name someone who will overturn the court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
Earlier in the day, at a town hall meeting in Clackamas, Merkley acknowledged that Democrats and their allies do not have the votes to thwart a nominee. The Senate has 47 Democrats — 10 of them up for re-election from states that supported Trump in 2016 — and two independents who caucus with them.
"I think there should be a whole group of senators on both sides of the aisle who think it is inappropriate to have a president under investigation for multiple issues to make a nomination," the Oregon Democrat said to applause by the 250 people in attendance at Camp Withycombe.
"It is all going to come down to just a few votes. There's no rule that can be utilized in such a fashion to obstruct the process — until you have 51 votes that say let's wait until these issues involving the president are cleared up. So I am hoping we'll have a few senators weigh in and do exactly that."
Merkley responded to a question posed by Gene Fifield of Oak Grove during the first of six town halls during the current Independence Day break.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has said she will oppose a nominee who does not respect precedents such as the 1973 decision — although she left open her final vote — and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona is undergoing treatment for a tumor and has been absent from the Senate.
"We wish him all the best in his fight against cancer," said Merkley, who was a target of McCain when Merkley sought and won a second term in 2014. McCain spent a day campaigning with Dr. Monica Wehby, Merkley's Republican opponent, but Merkley won with a majority of 56 percent.
Oregon currently has no restrictions on abortions — voters have rejected measures in 1986, 1990 and 2006 — but opponents of abortion rights are seeking to qualify a ban on state-funded abortions for the Nov. 6 statewide ballot.
Merkley drew national attention in 2017, when he spoke for 15 hours to complain about inaction by McConnell and the Senate's Republican majority in 2016 on Democratic President Barack Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
But one day afterward, the Senate voted along party lines to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominations and approved Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch more than a year after Scalia's death.
"It would create an enormous loss of integrity for the court," Merkley said of the 2017 events. "Now we are in that space.
"If this (new) nomination goes forward, it's going to further deepen the damage that has already been done to a group of individuals that need to be respected by America, not simply be a partisan political organization that is really offending the core values of our Constitution."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., offered his views on other issues:
• He would resist a Republican-led push to reduce benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the federal health insurance programs for older and low-income people — to offset the $1.5 trillion shortfall projected over a decade as a result of federal tax cuts.
Merkley said the cuts disproportionately benefit high-income households and large businesses.
"In all my town halls … I've never had somebody stand up and say: Please borrow a whole lot of money and give it to the richest Americans," he said.
"I doubt Americans are going to say yes to that proposition. As pensions get cut throughout the commercial economy, we need to improve and strengthen Social Security."
• He would require congressional approval for any new U.S. military actions to replace a 2001 resolution, which gave the president authority to use force against those who perpetrated or assisted the East Coast terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"That resolution has now been used by various administrations, Democratic and Republican, to go into 18 countries with our troops and with no possible connection to 2001," said Merkley, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Congress has forfeited its responsibility (for war powers) under the Constitution."
• He urged people to get involved in a cause, even if it has no direct link with current national or international issues. He said people can try to influence their friends in swing states — Oregon's congressional delegation has six Democrats and one Republican — and vote for like-minded candidates for public office.
"But we have a short span of life on this planet," said Merkley, who once directed Habitat for Humanity and the World Affairs Council in Portland. "Let's do something good for a better life."