Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senator

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Jeffrey Alan "Jeff" Merkley

Birthplace: Myrtle Creek, OR, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Darrell Philip Merkley and Betty L. Merkley

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senator

Jeffrey Alan "Jeff" Merkley (born October 24, 1956) is the junior United States Senator from Oregon. A member of the Democratic Party, Merkley was a five-term member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly representing House District 47, located in eastern Multnomah County within the Portland city limits. He also served as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.

He defeated two-term Republican incumbent Gordon Smith in the 2008 U.S. Senate election.

Early life, education, and early political career

Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, the son of Betty L. and Darrell Philip Merkley. His paternal grandmother was born in Caliope, Australia. He attended first grade in Roseburg before moving to Portland with his family. He graduated from David Douglas High School, obtained a bachelor of arts degree in International Relations from Stanford University in 1979, and earned a Master of Public Policy degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1982.

After completing his master's in 1982, Merkley was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow, working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the security of American military technology. After his fellowship, he worked in the Congressional Budget Office, analyzing nuclear weapons policies and programs.

Merkley returned to Portland in 1991 to serve as executive director of Portland Habitat for Humanity. He also started the Walk for Humanity, initiated the Journey for Mankind, launched development of the Habitat Home Building Center, and initiated a pilot project for “YouthBuild” in which gang-affected youth built homes in their own neighborhoods. He served as Director of Housing Development at Human Solutions, where he worked to make available affordable housing complexes and launching Oregon’s first Individual Development Account (IDA) program that helps low-income families save money to buy homes, attend college, or start businesses. Jeff Merkley was President of the World Affairs Council of Oregon for seven years and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Oregon legislature

In 1998, Merkley was elected as a Democrat to the Oregon House of Representatives from a district in east Portland (now District 47). He succeeded Frank Shields, who moved from the House to the Oregon State Senate due to term limits. In its endorsement, The Oregonian predicted that Merkley was the most likely of several Democrats to "accomplish something positive in the Legislature." Following the 2003 session, he was elected Democratic leader, and after Democrats gained a majority in the Oregon House in the 2006 Oregon statewide elections, he was chosen (in a unanimous vote of the 31 incoming Democrats) to serve as Speaker of the House in the 74th Oregon Legislative Assembly.

During Merkley's tenure as Speaker, the Oregon House passed several pieces of legislation: it created a state "rainy day fund" (a savings account to protect public schools against an unstable economy); increased funding in Oregon public schools by 14 percent ($1 billion) and by 18 percent ($1.4 billion) in state universities; banned junk food in schools (effective 2009); expanded the Oregon indoor smoking ban; revised the Oregon Bottle Bill; outlawed discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and in the workplace; and gave same-sex couples state-granted rights, immunities, and benefits.

U.S. Senate

2008 election

On August 13, 2007, Merkley received the endorsements of Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski and former Democratic Governor Barbara Roberts. He was endorsed in December 2007 by the Oregon AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor federation. The union's leaders cited Merkley's 97% record of voting in the interests of working families, and his electability in a general election against the incumbent senator Gordon Smith. Merkley was the first federal candidate to be cross-nominated by the Independent Party of Oregon.

Merkley won the Democratic nomination to challenge Smith in 2008, narrowly defeating activist Steve Novick and four others in the Democratic primary. Given the difficulty of running against an incumbent senator, Merkley was initially thought to have only a moderate chance of unseating Smith. But in July 2008, a Rasmussen poll showed Merkley with a lead over Smith, albeit within the margin of error. By August, after strongly negative campaigning on both sides, Rasmussen reported that Merkley's support had deteriorated, with Smith taking a strong lead in the polls. Merkley's favorable rating was at 42%, while his unfavorable rating had risen to 45%.

Polls taken shortly before the election indicated that Merkley's standing had once again improved, with Merkley's 12-point deficit turning into a slight lead.

On election night, the Merkley-Smith race was too close to call, but media outlets including The Oregonian called the race for Merkley on the morning of November 6, and Smith conceded later that morning. Ultimately, Merkley defeated Smith by three percentage points, 49% to 46%. While Merkley only carried six counties, one of them was his home county of Multnomah County, which he won by a staggering 142,000-vote margin--a deficit which proved too much for Smith to overcome. Merkley thus became the first person to unseat an incumbent Oregon senator since Bob Packwood's defeat of Wayne Morse in 1968.

Merkley formally resigned his seat in the Oregon House in a letter to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury on January 2, 2009. He was sworn as a Senator on January 6, 2009. Upon his swearing-in, Oregon was represented in the Senate by two Democrats for the first time since Maurine Brown Neuberger served alongside Morse from 1960 to 1967.


Merkley has accumulated a progressive record during his Senate career to date. Merkley became the first Democratic member of the Senate to announce that he'd vote against the confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, citing Bernanke's failure to "recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession." As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Merkley became a leading force in the effort to pass the Wall Street reform bill. Merkley championed an amendment known as "Merkley-Levin" or the "Volcker rule" which banned high-risk trading inside commercial banking and lending institutions. In 2010, Merkley successfully included the Merkley-Levin amendment in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill during conference committee. Merkley also championed an amendment that banned liar loans, a predatory mortgage practice that played a role in the housing bubble and subsequent financial collapse.

He was a founding signatory of a mid-February 2010 petition to use reconciliation to pass legislation providing for a government-run health insurance program in the Senate. Merkley also championed legislation that provides new mothers with a private space and flexible break times to pump breast milk once they return to work. Merkley's breastfeeding amendment was included in the health care reform law and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

In late February 2010, Merkley again made headlines when he unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican colleague Jim Bunning of Kentucky to drop his objection to passing a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. Bunning replied, "Tough shit." A spokesman for Merkley claimed that the Oregon senator did not hear Bunning's remark at the time.

In late 2010, Merkley began circulating a proposal to his fellow Senate colleagues about the need to force Senators to filibuster in order to block legislation. In 2011, Merkley introduced a bill to reform the filibuster and help end gridlock in the Senate. He was joined by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Committee assignments

Political positions

Iraq war

Merkley supports the Reid-Feingold Amendment, a plan for redeploying troops from Iraq, and has his own five-point plan for stability in Iraq:

Removing all combat troops starting right away and completing the redeployment in six to 12 months
Eliminating permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq
Engaging Iraq’s neighbors in a diplomatic effort to secure the peace, particularly Turkey, Iran and Syria
Removing all American contractors from the country and replacing them with Iraqi contractors, and
Directing our attention toward stronger engagement with the Iraqi Parliament and Courts

In March 2008, Merkley became the first U.S. Senate candidate to endorse the Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq.

Health care

Merkley is a cosponsor of the Healthy Americans Act, the health care reform bill sponsored by fellow Oregon senator Ron Wyden.

Merkley voted yes on the Senate's healthcare bill.

Social issues

Merkley has publicly announced support for same-sex marriage and introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the Senate during the 111th United States Congress as S. 1584. BlueOregon, a progressive Oregon blog, commented on the suitability of Sen. Merkley to be lead sponsor of ENDA, noting that as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Merkley had successfully guided Oregon's state version of ENDA, the Oregon Equality Act, to become law.

In 2010, Merkley cosponsored legislation to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), and allow gay Americans to serve in the military openly. In March 2011, Merkley cosponsored legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), legislation that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Impeachment of Alberto Gonzales

On August 20, 2007, Merkley called for the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.[29]

Personal life

Merkley and his wife, Mary, have two children, Jonathan and Brynne. Brynne appeared with Merkley in several campaign ads in the 2008 campaign.

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Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senator's Timeline

October 24, 1956
Myrtle Creek, OR, United States