Oregon Democrat argues it will speed exodus of U.S. jobs.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley says he opposes the pending trade agreement with 12 Asian and Pacific nations, many of which he argues will benefit from jobs that ought to remain in the United States.

The Oregon Democrat, in a meeting Wednesday (Feb. 17) with the Portland Tribune editorial board, said some past bilateral trade agreements benefited both the United States and the other nation.

But he says the pending agreement, officially the Trans-Pacific Partnership, falls into the same category as much-criticized pacts with Canada and Mexico and with Central America. Merkley says they give advantages to manufacturers in nations with less stringent environmental and labor standards than the United States – including U.S. companies that move operations to such nations.

“When we reduce or eliminate barriers for countries with low standards, the differential in cost is massive,” Merkley says. “This is about jobs in America. We do not have a middle class unless we make things in America.”

Advocates, including President Barack Obama, argue that it will open markets for U.S. goods and services – but Merkley disagrees.

“It is not about opening markets for U.S. goods because the goods they want to sell in those markets are not going to be made here,” he said. “We already know that because our manufacturers have left here to go to the cheapest places in the world to make things.”

Among Oregon’s top trade partners are China — which is not a party to the pending agreement — Canada, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea. Korea has a separate trade deal with the United States, which ratified it in 2011, and Canada is part of the North American Free-Trade Agreement. But Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam — which ranked seventh among Oregon trade partners in 2014 — are parties to the pending agreement.

As part of his pitch for the agreement, Obama spoke at Nike headquarters in Beaverton in 2015.

Merkley and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio were the only members of Oregon’s congressional delegation to oppose the 2015 law that authorized Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress must now ratify without amendments in an up-or-down vote. The others voted for it.

It is uncertain when the agreement may come up for a vote in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he will stall it until after the presidential election.

Merkley says he does champion the Export-Import Bank, which Congress reauthorized at the end of 2015 after a five-month suspension that occurred largely because of objections by some Republicans who say the bank amounts to subsidizing big business.

“It’s all politics,” he said. “The opposition to the bank by my colleagues across the aisle is inexplicable… The bank steps in and says (to a participating business) we will provide you with insurance so that you know you will get paid.”

The reauthorization was inserted into an omnibus appropriate measure to keep the government operating for two years.

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Supreme Court prospects?

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley says he doubts whether the Senate will act on any nominee Obama puts forth to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the next president should name Scalia’s successor, although other Republicans have left the way open for a committee hearing on a nominee by Obama.

“It’s completely irresponsible for the majority leader to say we are not going to fulfill our responsibility under the Constitution because we just want to bend the outcome in our direction as much as we can, and responsibility be damned,” Merkley said.

“The Constitution calls for the responsibility for the president to nominate and for the Senate to advise and consent. That is the standard the Senate should operate under. If the president nominates a totally unqualified or inappropriate person, the Senate should vote it down. But otherwise, that person should be approved.”

The Senate has voted to reject three court nominees in the past 50 years. They were Clement Haynsworth in 1969, Harrold Carswell in 1970, and Robert Bork in 1987. All were nominated by Republican presidents and acted on by Democratic majorities in the Senate.

Anthony Kennedy, who President Ronald Reagan named in 1987 after Bork lost and a subsequent nominee withdrew, was confirmed by the Senate in the presidential election year of 1988.

In 1968, outgoing President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Justice Abe Fortas to succeed Earl Warren as chief justice and Texas Rep. Homer Thornberry to succeed Fortas. But a coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats thwarted action — Fortas withdrew after the Senate failed to break a filibuster over his nomination — and Warren’s successor was named in 1969 by the next president, Republican Richard Nixon. Fortas was forced to resign from the court in 1969 over ethics violations, but it took three tries before Nixon was able to prevail with a nominee in 1970.