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Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

American politician
The basics
Occupations Politician
Countries United States of America
A.K.A. Jeffrey Alan "Jeff" Merkley
Gender male
Birth October 24, 1956 (Myrtle Creek, Douglas County, Oregon, U.S.A.)
Politics Democratic Party
Education Stanford University, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Authority ISNI id VIAF id
Jeff Merkley
The details

Jeffrey Alan 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 House of Representatives 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 and Republican challenger Monica Wehby in the 2014 U.S. Senate election.

Early life, education, and early political career

Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, the son of Betty Lou (née Collins) and Darrell Philip Merkley. His paternal grandmother was born in Calliope, Queensland, 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 until 1994.

He 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.

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

Jeff Merkley campaigning for Senate

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 federation'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 eight 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. Along with Michigan Senator Carl Levin, successfully added an amendment, usually called the Volcker Rule, to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street reform bill, which banned high-risk trading inside commercial banking and lending institutions. 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 said 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.

Merkley was the only member of the Senate to endorse Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination for President.

On April 4, 2017, Merkley held the senate floor for 15 hours 28 minutes in protest of the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Committee assignments

  • Committee on Appropriations
    • Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Ranking Member)
    • Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
    • Subcommittee on Legislative Branch
  • Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
    • Subcommittee on Economic Policy
    • Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection
    • Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development
  • Committee on the Budget
  • Committee on Environment and Public Works
    • Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy (Ranking Member)
    • Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health
    • Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife

Source: 2009 Congressional Record, Vol. 155, Page S729

Political positions

Senator Merkley in 2011.

Defense and foreign policy

Merkley led an effort in November 2011 to urge President Barack Obama to expedite transition of responsibility for military and security operations to the government of Afghanistan. The Senate passed an amendment to the defense authorization bill by voice vote that required the President to deliver to Congress a timeline for an accelerated transition of all military and security operations to the Government of Afghanistan within 90 days of the law’s enactment. The measure had bipartisan support. Co-sponsors included Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

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 endorsed the Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq.

Banking regulation

Merkley has focused on Wall Street reform in his position on the Senate Banking Committee. Merkley and Carl Levin have led an effort to crack down on proprietary trading at depository banks and other critical financial firms. The Dodd-Frank Act included the Merkley-Levin amendment to implement the Volcker Rule. The rule is premised on the notion that banks should not make risky, speculative bets while enjoying government deposit insurance. It is intended to prevent high-risk trading that jeopardizes the banking system. A $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in May 2012 prompted Merkley and Levin to push regulators to stiffen their draft language on the Volcker Rule provisions.

Health care

Merkley voted yes on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 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 nursing mothers with flexible break times and private space to pump breast milk at work. Merkley's breastfeeding amendment was included in the health care reform law and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.


As a member of the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Merkley has contributed legislation towards fixing the subprime mortgage crisis. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act contained an amendment by Merkley and Senator Amy Klobuchar protecting consumers from deceptive mortgage lending practices. The amendment prohibits mortgage lenders from receiving hidden payments when they sell high-cost loans and prohibits brokers from receiving higher pay for selling riskier or higher-fee loans. The amendment also bolsters underwriting standards.

To speed the recovery of the housing market, Senator Merkley supports aggressive efforts to create refinancing alternatives to costly and time-consuming foreclosures, including allowing federal bankruptcy judges to modify existing mortgages so they can keep their home under new terms. In July 2012, Merkley proposed a broad new refinancing plan for homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth and therefore cannot refinance. Under Merkley’s plan, any homeowner who is current on his or her mortgage could refinance into a 4% mortgage for 15 years or a 5% mortgage for 30 years.


Merkley has consistently supported policies that promote American energy independence and investment in alternative energy sources. In 2010, Merkley and Senators Tom Carper, Tom Udall, and Michael Bennet introduced the Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act, which set a goal for achieving complete independence from overseas oil by 2030. A similar piece of legislation was put forward by the same senators again in 2011. Merkley supports increasing national fuel economy standards, and advocates for a 6 to 7 percent annual improvement for vehicles over current mileage standards. Merkley has also been a strong supporter of electric vehicles. In 2011, Merkley and Senator Lamar Alexander introduced the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act. The bill was designed to provide short-term incentives for the rapid development and production of electric vehicles.

Campaign finance

Merkley supports increased transparency in campaign financing and limits on independent political spending by corporations. Merkley has been critical of both the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and of the court’s decision in 2012 not to revisit this case. Merkley called the 2012 decision “disturbing and damaging." In response to the Supreme Court decision, in July 2012 Merkley and six other senators sponsored the Disclose Act. Among other provisions, the legislation would require public disclosure of political donors that give $10,000 or more.

Senate reform

Merkley has been a leader in trying to reform the rules of the Senate itself, including those concerning the filibuster. On January 5, 2011, Merkley and Senators Tom Udall and Tom Harkin introduced a resolution intended to increase genuine debate and accountability in the Senate. The resolution proposed to eliminate the filibuster on motions to proceed, eliminate secret holds, guarantee consideration of amendments for both majority and minority, require a “talking filibuster” in which senators opposed to holding a straight up-or-down vote must continuously debate on the Senate floor, and expedite the nominations process. Upon introducing the resolution, Merkley stated: “The Senate is broken. We are failing to fulfill our legislative responsibilities.” On January 27, Merkley’s “talking filibuster” proposal received 46 votes in the Senate.

Postal reform

During the Postal Reform Act debate in the Senate in April 2012, Merkley led the effort to pass an amendment that would impose a one-year moratorium on the closure of most rural post offices. After that, the bill would prohibit the closure of post offices more than 10 miles from another post office and impose conditions limiting the closure of others. Twenty rural post offices in Oregon face closure because of the postal service’s financial problems.

Social issues

Senator Merkley's video contribution to the It Gets Better Project.

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 the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), legislation that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. With eleven other RFMA cosponsors, including fellow Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Senator Merkley released a video as part of the It Gets Better Project, the antibullying initiative aimed at inspiring at-risk LGBT youth.

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.

One of his cousins, Rebecka Ann Carnes, was killed alongside eight others in the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting.

Electoral history

Oregon House of Representatives 47th district election, 2004
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jeff Merkley (inc.) 14,670 64.11%
Republican Frank Cleys 8,023 35.06%
Write-ins Write-ins 188 0.82%
Oregon House of Representatives 47th district election, 2006
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jeff Merkley (inc.) 11,106 63.96%
Republican Bruce McCain 6,192 35.66%
Write-ins Write-ins 65 0.37%
U.S. Senate Democratic primary election in Oregon, 2008
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jeff Merkley 246,482 45.10%
Democratic Steve Novick 230,889 42.24%
Democratic Candy Neville 38,367 7.02%
Democratic Roger Obrist 12,647 2.31%
Democratic Pavel Goberman 12,056 2.21%
Democratic David Loera 6,127 1.12%
U.S. Senate election in Oregon, 2008
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jeff Merkley 864,392 48.90%
Republican Gordon Smith (inc.) 805,159 45.55%
Constitution Dave Brownlow 92,565 5.24%
Write-ins Write-ins 5,388 0.30%
U.S. Senate Democratic primary election in Oregon, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jeff Merkley (inc.) 277,120 93.34%
Democratic William Bryk 11,330 3.82%
Democratic Pavel Goberman 8,436 2.84%
U.S. Senate election in Oregon, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Democratic Jeff Merkley (inc.) 814,537 57.50%
Republican Monica Wehby 538,847 36.87%
Libertarian Mike Montchalin 44,916 3.07%
Pacific Green Christina Jean Lugo 32,434 2.22%
Constitution James Leuenberger 24,212 1.66%
Write-ins Write-ins 6,672 0.46%
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
Early life, education, and early political career Oregon legislature U.S. Senate Political positions Personal life Electoral history
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