Crisis in Ukraine: Russian invasion ‘a scary moment,’ says Sen. Merkley

“I am concerned,” Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley said of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “This is a scary moment because Russia’s protocols talk about escalating to tactical nuclear weapons if it’s needed to reinforce conventional efforts. That means it’s probably a policy option the Russian command and President Putin are talking about, which is very scary.”

Merkley made the comment in a one-on-one interview with The Chief Tuesday, March 29, just before conducting a virtual town hall for Columbia County.

In the interview with The Chronicle, Merkley also applauded President Biden for his decision to withhold sending U.S. troops to Russia by drawing a couple (of) “bright lines.”

“One is we don’t put soldiers on the ground in Ukraine so that we don’t have American soldiers battling Russian soldiers,” Merkley said. “Second of all, we do not put American aircraft over Ukraine shooting down Russian aircraft. Those (lines), in my estimation, are correct. We think that keeping that line and keeping from getting in direct conflict with Russia makes it quite unlikely that they would escalate in that matter.”

Supreme Court

Alongside foreign policy decisions, Merkley said he supports the confirmation of Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, to serve on the Supreme Court.

“Judge Jackson will bring much-needed diversity of lived experience and professional background to the Supreme Court,” Merkley said in a release before The Chronicle’s interview. “Importantly, she also shares a commitment to defending our founding constitutional values and to ensuring that the law is enforced evenhandedly to serve all of the people.

“The role of a judge is to apply the law impartially, without driving a partisan or ideological agenda at a time when our nation’s legal system is under assault from special interests seeking to make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.”

In the Chronicle’s one-on-one, Merkley said, “I think she (Jackson) brings an important perspective as someone who worked as an attorney for those who are accused. We often have attorneys who worked as prosecutors, but the legal system doesn’t approach anything about fairness unless there is both good representation for the accused as well as the prosecution.”

Support for Columbia County

While acknowledging his limited knowledge on “local complexities” regarding the NEXT Renewable Fuels plant development at the Port of Westward, Merkley said he supports a fast transition to renewable energy.

“It’s six or seven times cheaper to run on electricity,” he said. “We really have some advantages to move to electricity both in terms of reducing carbon pollution in the atmosphere driving climate chaos, and in terms of cheaper energy.”

Merkley also said he backs legislation making childcare more affordable for working families in Columbia County.

“Childcare is an absolutely critical part of our Build Back Better bill,” Merkley said. “The idea is that no family should have to pay more than 7% of its income towards childcare, which would be just a revolution in America for families that struggle to meet those high childcare costs and would help us rebuild our childcare system across the country.”

As to what he will do to ensure the bill’s passage, Merkley said, “We may be able to have it as part of a smaller package, (or) we might be able to have it as a standalone bill that colleagues across the aisle would join us on.” In other words, “We’ve got a couple of possibilities, so we’re not giving up on it.”

According to Merkley’s description of the bill, Build Back Better will provide financial support to families spending more than 7% on childcare and aid in training and development for childcare centers.

Merkley has held a town hall in each of Oregon’s 36 counties every year since 2009. The March 29 Columbia County town hall marked his 497th as a U.S. Senator and his 29th this year.