Jeff Merkley

Northwest Congressional Delegation Employs Twitter, Too

President Donald Trump communicates to his political base via Twitter and so do many Members of Congress, including the Pacific Northwest delegation. Issues they tweet about range from orca protection, affordable housing, drug interdiction, family separation at the border and reproductive rights.

President Donald Trump communicates to his political base via Twitter and so do many Members of Congress, including the Pacific Northwest delegation. Issues they tweet about range from orca protection, affordable housing, drug interdiction, family separation at the border and reproductive rights.

President Trump communicates directly with his base via Twitter. So do Members of Congress. Here is a sampler of recent Pacific Northwest congressional member tweets, reflecting the breadth of issues they track and attempt to impact:

  • Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) tweeted his support for the 21 young people challenging the Trump administration in court to protect the environment in light of climate change. “Anyone who is still a climate denier or thinks there’s no hope in saving our planet should read about the Juliana v. U.S. case,” the Portland Democrat said. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the case this week to decide whether to allow it to go to trial. Two previous court rulings okayed moving ahead.

  • Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio (@RepPeterDeFazio), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said investing in the Coast Guard will result in more drug interdiction than spending billions of dollars on a border wall. "An investment in assets for the Coast Guard – both personnel and equipment – would be a heck of a lot better than a static wall that people can go around, under or through," the Oregon Democrat said at a congressional hearing. DeFazio’s comment was posted on Twitter by OPB political writer Jeff Mapes. 

  • Washington Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) tweeted in response to news reports of botched family reunifications art at the US-Mexican border that resulted in long delays and children stuck in vans. “First cages, now vans. This is truly shameful and I will keep fighting to make sure President Trump and his administration are held accountable for this abuse.”

  • Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) tweeted, “It’s time for Congress to pass the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, and the Trump administration to stop ignoring the ethnic cleansing of China’s Muslim community. The US needs to sanction the officials responsible for these heinous abuses.” 

  • Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (@RepBonamici) is using her Twitter feed this week to promote #WorldOceansDay and the need to protect oceanic resources. She is co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus and her congressional district includes the North Oregon Coast. 

  • Washington Congressman Denny Heck (@RepDennyHeck) noted a resolution he introduced to declare June National Orca Protection Month. “There is cause for hope this year,” Heck tweeted. “But hope alone won’t save the Southern Resident killer whales.” 

  • Oregon Congressman Greg Walden (@repgregwalden) marked the celebration of life for Bob Maxwell, 98, a US Army combat solder in World War II who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in France. Maxwell, who lived in Bend, grew up as a Quaker, but declined classification as a conscientious objector when he was drafted in 1941. He participated in the Allied military campaign in North Africa and was part of the invasion force in Salerno, which earned him a Silver Star. Walden tweeted, “He will forever be cherished in the country that he sacrificed so much to protect, and in the hearts of everyone he interacted with, especially the community in central Oregon.” 

  • Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) tweeted, “Today, I became the FIRST South Asian American woman to preside over the US House of Representatives. Beyond proud to serve in the most diverse Congress in our nation’s history and to hold the gavel today.”

  • Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (@cathymcmorris) tweeted, “Socialism and human rights do not co-exist.” Her comment came in a story about Rodgers servings as one of two elected lawmakers representing Congress at the United Nations.

  • Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) tweeted, “Housing is a right, not a privilege. But right now, some families face an impossible choice of paying rent and buying food. The affordable housing crisis in my home state and others demands action to ensure every American has a roof over their head. #OurHomesOurVoices.” His tweet coincided with National Housing Week of Action from May 30-June 5.

  • Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (@SenatorCantwell) used her Twitter feed to announce cosponsoring the Women’s Health Protection Act, which she said, “guarantees a woman’s right to choose nationwide, free from medically-unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship. #StopTheBans

  • Washington Congressman Kim Schrier (@DrKimSchrier) tweeted, “So-called heartbeat bills have no basis in science, and are a cruel attempt to control women’s bodies. I’m proud to stand with @DrLeanaWen and @PPFA to #stopthebans.” Schrier is a pediatrician and was elected to Congress from a suburban Washington House district in 2018.

 

Senate Breaks Century-Old Precedent in Approving Seattle Judge

Seattle attorney Eric Miller was confirmed this week to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over the objections of Washington’s two Democratic senators, breaking a precedent dating back a century and foreshadowing a continuing attempt by President Trump to place more conservative judges on the federal bench. [Photo Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo]

Seattle attorney Eric Miller was confirmed this week to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over the objections of Washington’s two Democratic senators, breaking a precedent dating back a century and foreshadowing a continuing attempt by President Trump to place more conservative judges on the federal bench. [Photo Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo]

A Seattle-based Assistant US Attorney was confirmed this week by the Senate to a lifetime appointment on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It was the first time in a century that a federal judge was confirmed without the endorsement of at least one US senator from the nominee’s home state.

Eric Miller, 43, a presidential nominee who formerly clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was confirmed on a party-line vote over the objections of Washington Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. They declined to return “blue slips” indicating support for Miller because of what they called his “hostility toward tribal rights.” Murray and Cantwell also complained Miller’s confirmation hearing was a sham because it was scheduled during a Senate recess and only two Republican senators attended.

Last summer, the White House withdrew a similar nomination of Assistant US Attorney for Oregon Ryan Bounds over objections by Oregon’s Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. The Bounds’ nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was withdrawn after Republican Senators Tim Scott and Marco Rubio refused to vote for his confirmation. 

Placing conservatives on federal courts, especially the liberal-leaning 23-judge Ninth Circuit, has been a political goal of President Trump’s administration. Trump has often complained about unfriendly, liberal and “Obama” judges that have imposed legal impediments to his policy initiatives such as a Muslim travel ban and family separation on the US-Mexican border.

Ironically, Republican senators used the “blue-slip” prerogative to veto Obama judicial nominees. Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate rules on judicial appointments were changed to allow simple majorities, instead of the previous 60-vote threshold, to confirm federal judges. Ignoring the absence of “blue slips” is another step down a slippery path of politicizing federal judicial confirmations.

Murray called the confirmation of Miller a “dangerous first.” Cantwell said it set a “damaging precedent.” California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Washington Post, “It is regrettable and likely will result in more ideological nominees who don’t reflect the values of their home states. It’s hard to not see this action coming back to bite Republicans when they’re no longer in power in the Senate.”

On the Senate floor, Murray charged, “Abandoning the blue slip process and instead, bending to the will of a president who has demonstrated time and time again his ignorance and disdain for the Constitution and the rule of law is a mistake.” She noted Miller’s confirmation hearing included less than five minutes of questioning – “less questioning for a lifetime appointment than most students face for a book report.” 

According to Roll Call, more nominees are in the wings that lack endorsement by home-state senators in New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. “I think it’s going to be very hard for folks who allowed the blue slip to evaporate to complain if wonderful New York judges start getting appointed into South Carolina, or Nebraska, or Louisiana or other places, because you’ve disarmed the one thing that gives you the ability to do something about that,” Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told Roll Call.

McConnell praised Miller, who holds undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from the University of Chicago. During his abbreviated confirmation hearing, Miller said as a US solicitor general he has argued a case before the Supreme Court defending tribal lands. Subsequently in private practice, he said he represented a client that opposed tribal interests. He described his previous roles as an advocate “not to advance my own views but to advance my client’s views.”  

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said the blue slip tradition is more of a courtesy than a veto. Graham did say it was his intention to retain the blue slip process for US District Court judicial appointments.

 

Questioning a Policy of Treating Children as Political Prisoners

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the effects of a Trump administration policy to separate children from their asylum-seeking Latin American parents, so he went to Texas to see the border processing center and the former Walmart store where untold children are being held effectively like political prisoners.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the effects of a Trump administration policy to separate children from their asylum-seeking Latin American parents, so he went to Texas to see the border processing center and the former Walmart store where untold children are being held effectively like political prisoners.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their asylum-seeking parents when they surrender at our southern border. He wanted to see what was happening first-hand. He came away calling it Trump’s “zero humanity” policy.

As he relates in an op-ed published over the weekend by the Portland Tribune, Merkley showed up at the McAllen, Texas border processing center. What he saw, he says, left a “searing” memory and confirmed his worst fears. “Essentially, this adds up to the Trump administration choosing to inflict tremendous trauma on children to discourage families from seeking asylum in the United States,” Merkley wrote.

When he asked border processing center the rationale to separate children from their parents, Merkley says he was told they were just following orders. (Trump officials say tough measures are needed to secure the nation’s southern border and prevent MS-13 gang members from slipping into the country.)

Merkley described the place as a large warehouse with chain link fencing to create “holding cells.” He saw young children formed into lines. Some of the children were only four or five years old. Chilling images sadly and starkly reminiscent of a bygone, but not forgotten time. And it’s apparently not working. According to border agents, as many as 650 children were culled from their parents in a single 12-hour period and as many as 11,000 effectively orphaned children are being held in resettlement camps. The horrors asylum-seekers are escaping are worse than the horrors the Trump team inflicts.

From the border processing center, Merkley followed the trail of children to a detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, located in a former Walmart and run by a nonprofit. The senator had sought permission to view the facility, but it wasn’t granted. He figured he would try knocking on the door and see what happened. He didn’t get in.

“I don't know how many children are there. I don't know if they have sufficient counselors. I don't know how successful agencies are in finding homes for them across the country. I don't know if they are in contact with their parents, but I've heard that is extremely difficult,” Merkley recalled. “I do know this: The policy that brought children there, separated from their parents, is absolutely horrific and wrong.”

It isn’t surprising Merkley is using his unrequited trip to Texas as a political springboard:

“Americans should be outraged that our tax dollars are used to inflict spiteful and traumatizing policies on innocent children. I am calling on the relevant Senate committees to hold hearings about this situation. And I'm calling on all Americans to register their opposition with their House and Senate members.

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the horror of having my kids taken from my arms with no idea where they're going or when I might see them again. When I think of that little 4- or 5-year-old boy, stranded and scared – and think of the hundreds, perhaps thousands more children who are experiencing that same suffering – my heart breaks and my blood boils.”

Merkley’s appeals, at least so far, haven’t moderated the Trump policy. In fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week stricter conditions for people seeking political asylum. Whatever the merits of discounting domestic abuse and gang violence as reasons to grant asylum, the message was clear – don’t come, you’re not welcome, we will treat you as criminals.

Merkley rhetorically asks Trump: “What nation can justify inflicting harm on children to discourage parents from exercising the international right to seek asylum from persecution? No religious tradition nor moral code in the universe supports such a strategy.” The only strategy where such a policy makes some semblance of sense is a political strategy in which immigrants are the problem and barbed borders are the solution.

 

Budget Reconciliation, Round Two

After failing to repeal Obamacare using budget reconciliation procedures, GOP congressional leaders will try again, this time with major tax legislation, which President Trump calls a “middle-class miracle,” but critics berate as a tax giveaway to corporations and wealthy Americans.

After failing to repeal Obamacare using budget reconciliation procedures, GOP congressional leaders will try again, this time with major tax legislation, which President Trump calls a “middle-class miracle,” but critics berate as a tax giveaway to corporations and wealthy Americans.

The GOP-controlled Congress is gearing up for another budget reconciliation battle, this time over taxes. The parliamentary scenario is eerily similar to the failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Like the flawed plans to scrap the Affordable Care Act, Republican congressional leaders are snubbing bipartisan efforts to write a tax plan. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has worked on bipartisan tax legislation before, but he says he wasn’t consulted on the latest proposal, which President Trump calls a “middle-class miracle,” but critics say gives large tax cuts to corporations and wealthy Americans.

That major tax legislation is attached to budget reconciliation is itself an issue, reflecting GOP unease over the impact of large tax cuts on the federal deficit. Republicans want to make a critical one-word change in budget procedures – from “current law” to “current policy” – that would have the effect of substantially reducing the apparent loss of federal revenue from tax cuts, perhaps by as much as $500 billion. Rep. Richard Neal, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, criticized the new set of numbers as a “sleight of hand to fool the public.”

Making the deficit impact shrinks is intended to mollify House budget hawks who want to trim federal spending – and who typically refuse to vote to raise the federal debt ceiling, an action that also is pending, but rarely discussed. The budget package approved by a 219-206 vote in the House calls for a $5.8 trillion in spending reductions over the next decade for Medicaid, Medicare, education and national infrastructure.

Trying to pass a tax cut under budget reconciliation procedures is largely a gambit to skirt by the 60-vote cloture rule in the Senate. Under reconciliation, Senate Republicans would only need 50 “yes” votes, plus an “aye” vote by Vice President Pence, to pass the tax cuts. There are only 52 GOP senators, so the margin, as shown by the Obamacare repeal, is tight.

Unlike the effort to repeal Obamacare, Senate Democrats aren’t all in lockstep in opposition to the GOP plan. Three Democrats who face re-election in 2018 have kept their powder dry on tax legislation. Their votes may not be needed to pass the tax cuts, but Republicans are courting them to give their tax legislation the patina of bipartisanship. Trump flew to Indiana to put pressure on Senator Joe Donnelly, promising that “we will campaign against him like you wouldn’t believe” if he didn’t vote for the tax plan.

The battle lines over Obamacare translated more easily into mobilization and messaging – millions of Americans would lose health insurance. Taxation is more abstract. It is harder to get worked up over rich people getting tax breaks than people losing access to health care. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s opening salvo – calling the GOP tax plan “wealth-fare” – hasn’t caught on.

Another dimension of the looming tax debate is its many parts. For example, the child care credit that Republicans have indicated will be included, is popular among Democrats. The potential removal of a deduction for state and local taxes will hit some states, including Oregon that relies heavily on personal income taxation, harder than others. The Portland Tribune reported Oregonians deducted $5.9 billion in state and local taxes from their federal income tax returns in 2015. About half of that amount came on tax filers with income between $100,000 and $500,000 and twenty-nine percent of Oregonians could see higher state taxes as a result, state officials say.

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is taking a point position in opposing the GOP tax plan, describing it as a “massive giveaway to the rich.” And Vox reports that campaigns, such as “Not One Penny” and the Trump tax chicken, are heating up.  TrumpTaxScam.org is posting a calculator to help people determine how the tax changes will affect them.

 

NW Delegation Gains Clout

The congressional delegates from the Pacific Northwest, though largely Democrats such as freshly reelected Senator Jeff Merkley, hold key positions in the 114th Congress. 

The congressional delegates from the Pacific Northwest, though largely Democrats such as freshly reelected Senator Jeff Merkley, hold key positions in the 114th Congress. 

Elections bring change and the biggest change after last year's election was the demotion of Senate Democrats to the minority. Here is a quick look at how the Pacific Northwest delegation stacks up in the just convened 114th Congress:

Senator Patty Murray has been given immense responsibility by her Democratic Caucus, including co-chairing the Super Committee, heading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and chairing the Veterans Committee and the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee. Murray and GOP Budget Chairman Ryan crafted the budget compromise that avoided deep domestic spending cuts and set a framework for a bipartisan roadmap to address longer-term challenges. In the 114th Congress, Murray takes on possibly her most challenging assignment. She gave up her chairmanship of both the full Budget Committee and Transportation/Housing Appropriations Subcommittee to take over the most powerful domestic discretionary issue, health care. Murray will now be the lead authorizer and appropriator on health care, education and workforce development. She is the Ranking Member of the Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the full Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

Senator Ron Wyden will continue as the lead Democrat on the powerful Finance Committee.  Even in the minority, Wyden will wield significant power on the tax writing committee in a year when tax reform may finally percolate to the surface.  The Committee also will have a significant role in financing a transportation reauthorization bill, crafting a Trade Promotion Authority bill, addressing online sales tax and passing a host of tax extenders.

Senator Jeff Merkley, who joined the Appropriations Committee in the last Congress, was recently selected to be the Ranking Member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. Merkley is the beneficiary of a number of retirements and departing colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and is probably overjoyed to start his second term as the lead Democrat on the subcommittee. Agriculture is huge in Oregon, including the exploding wine industry, and Merkley will be well positioned to promote research and development of key agricultural products. Since coming to Congress, Merkley has been frustrated with the obstructionist tactics of the Republican minority. He led the fight for filibuster reform. It will be interesting to see if Merkley continues to champion the cause now that Democrats are in the minority.

Senator Maria Cantwell will serve as the lead Democrat on the Small Business Committee and remain a member of the Finance and Commerce committees. She will continue to advocate for domestic trade, access to capital for small businesses and renewable energy. Cantwell has shown a keen interest and is well positioned to address the booming oil-by-train shipments that are flowing through Washington State.  Cantwell also will play a key role in the transportation reauthorization bill as she fights to fund freight corridors to facilitate trade and manufacturing. 

Congressman Greg Walden will maintain his position on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and his subcommittee chairmanship of Communications and Technology where he will lead discussions surrounding the broadband spectrum and innovative communication technologies to drive the economy. Walden also will lead the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which is the political arm of the Republican Party devoted to maintaining and increasing the GOP majority in the House. Walden is widely praised for giving House Republicans the biggest majority since 1931. Speaker John Boehner and Walden are good friends and the Speaker is quick to give the Oregon Republican credit for the 2014 rout.

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler has shot up like a rocket in terms of congressional influence and committee assignments.  The powerful Appropriations Committee is typically reserved for seasoned members of Congress, but Herrera Beutler fought for and won a coveted spot on the committee as a sophomore member. She wasn't able to lock down a gavel on a Subcommittee this Congress, but she will continue to accrue seniority. Congressional leaders will find ways to elevate the Congresswoman’s public profile as a rising leader in the party. She was featured this week in the GOP's 10 Questions series. You can find the link here.

Congressman Peter DeFazio surrendered his leading role as Ranking Member of the House Resources Committee in favor of taking over as the lead Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. With the likelihood of a transportation reauthorization bill set to move this Congress (the current bill expires in May), DeFazio will have a unique opportunity to shape the massive transportation bill. One surprise the Oregon Democrat didn't expect last week was receiving a vote for Speaker of the House. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a close friend of DeFazio's and a fellow Democratic member of the T&I Committee, shocked everyone when he impulsively shouted out DeFazio's name. DeFazio quickly distanced himself from the situation and said he had no idea Lipinski would do it.  Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lost the vote of three other Democrats while Boehner lost 25 of his fellow Republicans. If Boehner had lost 29 votes, it would have been a long day.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, will be one to watch as Congress tackles comprehensive tax reform. Blumenauer is expected to drive continued sustainable investment, green energy and look for ways to integrate these concepts into the tax code. As Congress addresses transportation reauthorization, look for Blumenauer to advocate for a gas tax increase and push for piloting a vehicle-miles-travelled program. 

Congressman Kurt Schrader secured an impressive victory on Friday and is now a member of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. Schrader said he wanted to use the new committee position to address health care issues that plagued the Cover Oregon website, focus more attention on renewable energy and reduce overly burdensome government interference in the marketplace.  Because of the A-level assignment, Schrader has to leave his posts on the House Agriculture, Budget and Small Business committees.  It's likely Schrader, a moderate with an independent streak, received the coveted prize because a couple fellow Blue Dog Democrats on the Committee lost their seats.

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, a rising leader in the Democratic Party, will continue to serve on the House Education and Workforce Committee and influence policy decisions through her Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. Bonamici will keep her position on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, including her Ranking Member position on the Subcommittee on Environment. Here, she will be considering issues related to the EPA, environmental regulations and aspects of the broader climate change debate. 

Congressman Denny Heck will continue to serve on the Financial Services Committee and promote his New Democrat agenda. Heck was just named as chair of the DCCC Recruitment Committee, where he will work with Democratic candidates from around the country to try and rebuild the party. Heck is facing an uphill battle as the Democrats took a beating in 2014. To retake the majority, Democrats need to win a net of 30 seats. It's not impossible. In the 2016 presidential election, 26 House Republicans will occupy districts that President Obama won in 2012. Freshmen Members of Congress typically focus squarely on the needs of their districts and that is what Heck did. Recognizing the significant impact of Joint Base Lewis McCord on his district, Heck made military housing, veterans care and transportation infrastructure his top priorities. Heck is also a consummate legislator. Even as a freshman, he was successful in passing a bill that addresses underwater mortgages by giving additional flexibility to the Federal Housing Administration. Getting a bill passed in this dysfunctional Congress as a freshman in the minority is a testament to Heck's ability to navigate the legislative process.

NW Delegation Continues to Move On Up

Senator Patty Murray is just one of many NW congressional delegates growing in influence on the national political scene.

Senator Patty Murray is just one of many NW congressional delegates growing in influence on the national political scene.

While there may be a lack of close, competitive federal races in the Pacific Northwest, there is something to keep an eye on. 

The increasing seniority of Members of Congress from Oregon and Washington will continue to grow in the next Congress and the region’s influence may be nearing an all-time high. Here is a quick snapshot of the opportunities facing our region’s most influential policymakers.

Senator Patty Murray's rise to power is one of the most underreported stories in politics. Murray has been given immense responsibilities by her Democratic caucus, including co-chairing the Super Committee, heading the DSCC and chairing the Veterans Committee and the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee. Murray and GOP Budget Chairman Paul Ryan crafted the budget compromise that avoided deep domestic spending cuts and set a framework for a bipartisan roadmap to address longer-term challenges.

Because of Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) retirement, Murray could take over as chair or ranking member on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for the largest domestic spending bill by far and funds the Department of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor. Murray would have to give up her top spot on the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, but the opportunity will likely be too good to pass up.

Senator Ron Wyden will continue to lead the powerful Finance Committee as chair if Democrats stay in power or ranking member if the GOP controls the Senate. Even if he is in the minority, Wyden will continue to wield significant power on the tax writing committee in a year when tax reform may finally percolate to the surface.  The Committee also will have a significant role in financing the transportation reauthorization bill, crafting a Trade Promotion Authority bill, addressing online sales tax and passing a host of tax extenders.

Senator Jeff Merkley, who joined the Appropriations Committee this past Congress, could ascend to become an Appropriations subcommittee chair or ranking member in the next Congress. Because five or six senior Democratic appropriators are either retiring or will lose their races, Merkley could be catapulted to one of the more senior members of the Appropriations Committee. As a member of the Banking Committee, Merkley has championed banking reform measures to ensure financial institutions are held accountable for bad decisions and also tried to separate the banking and investment arms of financial institutions. Merkley has been frustrated with the obstructionist tactics of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and has led the fight for filibuster reform. It will be interesting to see if Merkley continues to champion the cause should Democrats lose control of the Senate. There will be plenty of fellow Democrats who will want to employ the filibuster as often as it was used against them.

Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Small Business Committee and member of the Finance and Commerce committees, will continue to advocate for domestic trade, access to capital for small businesses and renewable energy. Cantwell has shown a keen interest and is well positioned to address the booming oil-by-train shipments that are flowing through the Northwest. Cantwell also will play a key role in the transportation reauthorization bill as she fights to fund freight corridors to facilitate trade and manufacturing.

Congressman Greg Walden will maintain his position on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and his chairmanship of Communications and Technology Subcommittee where he will continue to lead discussions surrounding the broadband spectrum and innovative communication technologies to drive the economy. Walden also will continue to lead the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which is the political arm of the Republican Party devoted to maintaining and increasing the GOP majority in the House. There has been some speculation that a few fellow GOPers are vying for the position, largely due to the NRCC’s low fundraising numbers. However, Walden has friends in high places, namely Speaker John Boehner, and it’s likely the GOP will pick up nearly a dozen seats this election, cementing his tenure for another two years. Boehner is quoted saying that Walden is working “tirelessly” on behalf of Republican candidates and that he is a “big reason” the GOP has the opportunity to increase its majority.

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler has shot up like a rocket in terms of congressional influence and committee assignments. The powerful Appropriations Committee is typically reserved for seasoned members of Congress, but Herrera Beutler fought for and received a coveted spot on the committee as a sophomore member of Congress. It’s unlikely she will be able to chair an Appropriations subcommittee, but she will accrue seniority. Congressional leaders will continue to find ways to elevate her public profile as a rising leader in the party.

Congressman Peter DeFazio could face an interesting choice after the election. DeFazio is the ranking member of the House Resources Committee, an important committee for the Congressman’s district that has a wide swath of federal lands. However, it’s likely Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the lead Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will lose his House seat in the upcoming election. DeFazio would be next in line to take over the top transportation post. With the likelihood of a transportation reauthorization bill set to move in the next Congress (the current bill expires in May), DeFazio would have an opportunity to shape the massive transportation bill if he were to take up the mantle for Democrats on the Transportation Committee. However, under Democratic Caucus rules, you can’t lead two committees, so DeFazio would have to make a choice between Resources and Transportation. Heading the Transportation Committee may be an opportunity the Congressman can’t pass up.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, as a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, will be one to watch as Congress tackles comprehensive tax reform. Blumenauer is expected to drive continued investment in sustainable, green energy and look for ways to integrate these concepts into the tax code. As Congress addresses transportation reauthorization, look for Blumenauer to advocate for a gas tax increase and push for piloting a vehicle-miles-travelled program.

Congressman Kurt Schrader is expected to maintain his posts on the House Agriculture, Budget and Small Business committees. On these committees, Schrader will play a role in the continued debate over the national debt and remain influential over USDA and rural development policy. Schrader’s position on the Agriculture Committee will be critical as he works with fellow delegation members DeFazio and Walden to advocate for a responsible solution to the O&C lands issue.

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, a rising leader in the Democratic Party, will likely continue to serve on the House Education and Workforce Committee and influence policy decisions through her Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. Bonamici is also safe to keep her position on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, including her ranking member status on the Subcommittee on Environment. Here, she will be considering issues related to the EPA, environmental regulations and aspects of the broader climate change debate.

Congressman Denny Heck is seeking his second term in the House. As freshman, members of Congress typically focus squarely on the needs of their districts and that is what Heck has done. Heck recognizes the significant impact of Joint Base Lewis McCord on his district and has made military housing, veterans care and transportation infrastructure his top priorities. Heck is also a consummate legislator. Even as a freshman, he was successful in passing a bill that addresses underwater mortgages by giving additional flexibility to the Federal Housing Administration. Getting a bill passed in this dysfunctional Congress as a freshman in the minority is a testament to his ability to navigate the legislative process. Heck will likely continue to serve on the Financial Services Committee and promote his New Democrat agenda.

An Election All About Obama

In many ways, the November 4 general election will be a referendum on President Obama, even though his name won't appear on any ballot.

In many ways, the November 4 general election will be a referendum on President Obama, even though his name won't appear on any ballot.

The mid-term election has seen congressional races turn into contests of how much disagreement or distance candidates can achieve from the President who faces slumping approval ratings over intensified terrorist threats abroad and the specter of the Ebola virus spreading here.

The Pacific Northwest is no exception. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, thought at one point to be the most vulnerable member of the region's delegation, invited Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren to barnstorm for him, not Obama. And recent polls show Merkley has a double-digit lead in his re-election bid.

Here is a quick overview of the election:

Election 2014 - A Presidential Referendum

While the economy has improved and the unemployment rate is below 6 percent nationwide, the President's approval rating is in the toilet – 41% approve, 54% disapprove. As a reference point, Obama's rating is worse than Bill Clinton's (43/48) in 1994, the year Newt Gingrich sailed into power with his Contract with America. Facing these sturdy headwinds, the Democratic Party will likely pay a heavy price next Tuesday losing control of the Senate and approximately 10 seats in the House. If the GOP picks up nine seats, they would control the biggest majority in the House since the Truman Administration.

Turnout is the key and Republicans are angrier and more motivated this cycle. The barrage of negative news ranging from the rise of ISIS, another war in the Middle East and the mismanagement of the Ebola outbreak at the CDC are not the type of October stories Democrats want on the front page of newspapers or trending on social media.

The Obama Administration has done a poor job promoting its policy successes, framing the generally positive jobs numbers and avoiding missteps on domestic and foreign policy fronts. Add to the equation Senate GOP candidates are more mainstream than 2010. As you may remember the Witch from Delaware and Todd Akin's comments that women can somehow block unwanted pregnancies sunk the GOPs chances of two likely pickups. Lastly, Democrats are defending a number of deep red state Senate seats.

Republicans need six seats to take control of the Senate. Today, six Senate seats held by Democrats are polling "likely" Republican pickups, including Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, West Virginia, Louisiana and Montana. Iowa and Colorado are leaning Republican so it's plausible the GOP would have a three-seat majority. At this point, Democrats are hoping for a surprise upset in Georgia and hitching their wagon to an Independent in Kansas who is threatening incumbent Senator Pat Roberts. In the end, there are more paths for Republicans to take over the Senate and Democrats chances are dwindling. Nate Silver of the 538 blog puts the Republican's chances of a Senate takeover at 64.5 percent.

Politics in the Northwest

Even though results of the 2014 election will have a tremendous impact on the country, the lack of competitive races in the Northwest is notable. Merkley, who was supposed to be the most vulnerable incumbent in the region, is touting a 17-point lead in the polls. It's likely ballot initiatives in Oregon such as the legalization of recreational marijuana and GMO labeling will increase turnout in Merkley's favor. Despite millions of dollars in ads from outside groups such as the Koch brothers, missteps by the Monica Wehby campaign seem to be insurmountable.

In Oregon House races, Congressman Peter DeFazio is being inundated with last-minute third-party spending, but he has weathered similar storms in the past and will likely prevail in the contest. DeFazio, a populist Democrat with an independent streak, has squabbled with the Obama Administration over a number of items from transportation to forest management. DeFazio seems to fit his district very well and has maintained strong support since his first election nearly 30 years ago.

Congressman Kurt Schrader, who is typically on the wrong end of third-party expenditures, seems to have avoided the distinction this go round and should defeat his opponent, Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith, with a comfortable margin.

In Washington House races, with little likelihood of an incumbent loss, most of the attention is on the open seat to be vacated by retiring Congressman Doc Hastings. There is no chance of a Democratic pick up as the "top two" candidates are both Republicans, but the contest is getting nasty and pitting tea party activist and former Washington Redskin Clint Didier vs. state Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse. The race symbolizes the intra-party feud between moderates and those staunch Constitutionalists willing to stick to a cause without compromise.

Rising Influence in the NW

While the politics may be quiet, the increasing seniority of Members of Congress from Oregon and Washington will continue to grow in the next Congress. My next update will focus on the roles and responsibilities of the Northwest's leading senators and congressional representatives.

Plagiarism and Politics

Monica Wehby finds herself in a controversy over "borrowed" campaign material, which should could address by sharing her own views written in her own hand.A Twitter exchange about candidate plagiarism raises a good question about how to judge authentic candidate thinking.

The exchange on Twitter centered on Oregon GOP Senate challenger Monica Wehby's embrace of Republican white papers on health care and the economy as her own on her campaign website. In addition to plagiarism, the fudged positions were embarrassing for someone who is a pediatric neurosurgeon and has a campaign slogan that says "Keep Your Doctor/Change Your Senator." Wehby is trying to unseat Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley.

GOP Studying Wehby Campaign for Clues

The U.S. Senate race in Oregon may really be about putting Oregon and other blue states into play for the 2016 presidential election.

According to a story published in the Washington Post, Monica Wehby's attempt to unseat Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is a field trial for a different kind of Republican candidate — female, a medical doctor and less strident on flash-point social issues.

National GOP operatives are branding Wehby as an "independent conservative," perhaps as a contrast to the more rough-hewn "maverick" persona projected by former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Wehby may have trouble with messy break-ups, but you wouldn't catch her shooting moose from a helicopter.

Wehby campaign officials will insist, as they should, their candidate is in the race to win. Her victory in Oregon, they would say, would help to ensure Republicans retake the U.S. Senate and control Congress during the final two years of the Obama presidency.

She is seeking to project an image with a TV ad showing her saving a newborn with spinal problems. Her catch phrase is, "Keep your doctor, change your senator."

However, the race in Oregon is more likely to come down to a battle over Republican and Democratic views on economic policies and social issues. Merkley's campaign will do its best to turn the race into a referendum of national policies. Therein lies the interest in the race at a national level. Can an attractive candidate who can utter comprehensible sentences and hasn't listed to the far-right of the GOP base overcome the built-in constituencies of issues such as pay equity and carbon reduction.

Seven States Could Decide Senate Control

Control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs in this year's mid-term general election and insiders say it could come down to races in as few as seven states. Senate races in four more states, including Oregon, also could play a role. 

The political wildcard in the election deck is what happens in Republican primaries, including in Kentucky where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a Tea Party challenger. In 2012, GOP voters nominated very conservative and controversial candidates that cost them victory in November in at least two states.

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley won't have a walk-over in his first re-election bid, as credible Republicans, including Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, have jumped into the race. Expect some big money to come to Oregon to bludgeon Merkley. If that works or Merkley slips, Oregon could wind up on the short map of key races to decide control of the Senate.

For now, Washington Post political analysts point to Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina as the battlegrounds to watch with Democratic incumbents trying to stave off GOP challengers. Republicans are given the edge to win seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, where Democratic incumbents are retiring or, in the case of Montana Senator Max Baucus, heading off to the China as the new U.S. ambassador.

The Politics and Facts of Obamacare

The bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, coupled with a tide of canceled health insurance policies, has put a dozen Democratic senators, including Oregon's Jeff Merkley, in a defensive position a year ahead of the 2014 election.

Merkley has joined other Senate Democrats in supporting legislation to allow people to retain their health insurance plans that have been canceled because they fail to meet the minimum requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

The balky federal Affordable Care Act website is blamed for embarrassingly sluggish sign-ups for health insurance coverage, which totaled only slightly more than 106,000 in October. However, the political panic button has been pushed because the existing health care plan cancellations undercut President Obama's oft-repeated promise than no one would be forced to give up their health plan. No less than former President Bill Clinton says action is needed to make the promise whole.

Republicans have dubbed 12 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2014 the Obamacare Dozen. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is already the target of attack ads, which have eroded her poll numbers so she now finds herself in a dead heat with potential GOP challengers.

Several of the 12 Democrats, including senators who just months ago were viewed as invincible in 2014, are pivoting to separate themselves from Obamacare by supporting a fix to the canceled policy problem, advocating for a longer period to enroll in a new health plan or demanding an investigation on why the website rollout tanked.

For his part, Obama has tried to absorb some of the frustration by apologizing for the poor website rollout and admitting "we fumbled the rollout on this health care law," as he unveiled his own fix to allow people to retain current health care plans.

Merkley Lauds Senate Filibuster Deal

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley lauded a deal that paved the way for Senate confirmation of executive branch appointees, which he called a step in the right direction of filibuster reform.The U.S. Senate reached a compromise that avoided a partisan clash over filibuster delays of White House nominees, which threatened to plunge the upper chamber into deeper political gridlock.

The deal was applauded by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who has championed filibuster reform. He said allowing simple up or down votes on presidential appointees to executive branch posts is a step toward historical normalcy in how the Senate treats confirmations.

The deal, which was reached after an unusual meeting of senators in the Old Senate Chamber where Henry Clay achieved his famous compromise delaying civil war, held as 17 GOP senators voted to end a silent filibuster blocking confirmation of Richard Cordray, President Obama's choice to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, who has been in the job on an acting basis, was formally confirmed later on a 66-34 vote.

Brokered in part by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, the compromise opens the door to Senate approval of several stalled Obama White House nominees on the National Labor Relations Board and to lead the Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Export-Import Bank.

The Intersection of Clout and Dysfunction

Oregon is gaining seniority and political clout in Congress, but is that power as effective as it once was in a Congress known more for its dysfunction than its accomplishments?Oregon may be on the threshold of reaping the benefits of congressional seniority as members of the state delegation move into higher-profile and more powerful positions. But Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes wonders whether seniority in a dysfunctional Congress is as important as it once was.

For years, Oregon power brokers jealously eyed the political clout of Washington's delegation, with Warren Magnuson as chair of Senate Appropriations and his protégé Congressman Norm Dicks as a rising star in House Appropriations. When asked about the value of chairing Senate Appropriations, Magnuson famously said it was all about sharing — if Alabama got a project funded, then one was funded in Washington; if Maine got a project funded, then another one was funded in Washington.

Oregon experienced its own political heyday when Mark Hatfield as chair of Senate Appropriations, Bob Packwood as chair of Senate Finance, Al Ullman as chair of House Ways and Means and Bob Duncan and later Les AuCoin as members of House Appropriations. Hatfield didn't approach his chairmanship with the same swagger as Magnuson, but he still managed to bring home a lot of bacon.

Northwest Delegation Gains Clout

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley lands a prize committee assignment, symbolizing the current Northwest congressional delegation's escalating clout in Congress.The Pacific Northwest congressional delegation climbed the ladder of seniority and power in Washington, DC this week, which could translate into more favorable attention to regional concerns.

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley cashed in on his support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by landing a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He will be the first Oregon congressional member to sit on Appropriations in either the House or Senate since the late Senator Mark Hatfield 15 years ago.

In the arcane, playground rules of Congress, the Appropriations Committee is where individual members go to "work some magic" on a particularly important local project to their district. When you join this committee, you suddenly have lots of friends and forgotten relatives.

Merkley isn't your "bring home the bacon at any cost" kind of guy. But he isn't a fool, either. He faces re-election and needs to buck up support in rural parts of the state. Senate Appropriations is the perfect platform to become everyone's best buddy.

Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell will assume the gavel of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes wrote that Cantwell's ascension to the chair of this committee vindicates the efforts by Washington Indian tribes to defeat former Senator Slade Gorton and elect Cantwell. They have gone from someone they despised to a committee chair they trust.

Merkley Shines While Others Slobber

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley earned praise for his direct, pointed questioning of J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, which often fail to gain much attention.The Senate hearing last week featuring J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon "would have been a total fiasco," says Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibii, except for sharp questioning by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley about banks "operating like a hedge fund" with the backing of "government-insured deposits."

Tuning in to congressional hearings, even on important topics, isn't a regular American routine. But thanks to colorful political reporting from an unsuspected source, we get an inside, minute-by-minute look at how many Senate Banking Committee members treated the Dimon hearing like a celebrity book-signing.

"Most of the Senators not only supplicated before the blow-dried banker like love-struck schoolgirls or hotel bell-hops," Taibbi writes, "they also almost all revealed themselves to be total ignoramuses with no grasp of the material they were supposed to be investigating." That isn't the usual hearing summary you get on network TV.

Cautionary Coat-tails in 2012 Presidential Race

Based on the present and projected GOP presidential lineup of potential nominees, it is hard to imagine President Obama losing California, Washington and Oregon in his 2012 bid for re-election. It is the Left Coast, after all.

But winning isn't everything in presidential politics. A candidate may not have coat-tails, but his or her campaign does. Those coat-tails can make a huge difference in so-called down ballot races for Congressional seats and statewide offices.

The most notable recent example occurred in 2008 when Republican presidential hopeful John McCain pulled the plug on his Oregon campaign. That pullout left a late, gaping hole in Senator Gordon Smith's campaign and arguably played a role in his eventual defeat by Jeff Merkley.

That helps explain why David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser, showed up in Seattle to reassure Democratic officials and operatives the President wouldn't take the Pacific Northwest for granted.

Some show of force by the Democratic presidential candidate can translate into tangible help for fellow Democrats facing tough races. In Oregon, Congressmen Kurt Schrader and David Wu, assuming he survives a primary challenge, could be in fights for their political lives.