Merkley addresses national concerns in Astoria

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley on Saturday reminded locals to remain involved in national matters.

“A democratic republic does so much better when citizens are engaged and motivated,” the Oregon Democrat told the crowd gathered at Clatsop Community College in Astoria.

Merkley, who was elected to the Senate in 2008, has adopted the practice of fellow U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, visiting each county once a year.

Saturday was his 385th town hall. He outlined his three main issues: corruption in elections; the failure of the U.S. to invest in health care, housing, education and infrastructure; and climate change.

Locals brought Merkley a range of concerns.

The senator shared his support at the federal level for strengthening financial aid, mental health and drug addiction treatment and renewable energy development. He also backed the college’s efforts to expand its unique maritime sciences program with the help of a federal designation as a Maritime Center of Excellence.

He expressed dismay over the politicization of judicial appointments and President Donald Trump’s stacking of federal courts with conservative judges.

Asked about a ramping up of tensions toward military intervention in Venezuela, Merkley, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recounted his unsuccessful attempt to introduce an amendment requiring President Trump to seek congressional approval before committing troops to the South American nation.

He referenced similar legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, to require congressional approval for war with Iran.

“I’m very concerned that the path to producing a conflict is being deliberately laid,” Merkley said.

He was also asked about President Trump’s effort to have Attorney General William Barr review special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The U.S. is on the verge of a constitutional crisis regarding separation of powers and the legislative branch’s ability to check the executive branch, Merkley said.

“Right now we’re going into a scenario of an extraordinary blockade of the check of Congress on the executive branch,” he said. “It’s very unhealthy for our system. The Constitution does not envision an imperial presidency.”