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Merkley Downplays Presidential Aspirations, Decries Republican Health Care Approach


CNN at once lauded and lambasted Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley this week, saying he could be a dark horse presidential candidate for 2020 — in part because of his lack of charisma.

Merkley took the CNN story as a compliment in an interview Thursday with OPB’s “Think Out Loud”

“Sometimes, it’s that studious guy who keeps bringing ideas forward, and keeps talking with other senators to organize, that gets the job done,” Merkley said, embracing his own understated brand. “That’s my style and I think it’s my strength.”

Merkley sees his job on the campaign trail as helping his Democratic colleagues in the Senate get re-elected in 2018.

But on Capitol Hill, Merkley isn’t shy about taking a prominent role, especially when it comes to challenging his Republican colleagues.

“No charisma” Merkley has grabbed his share of attention through his marathon filibuster on the Senate floor of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination and his early backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.

The Portland Democrat spoke of contrasts Thursday.

On one hand, after a gunman opened fire at the GOP baseball practice Wednesday, Merkley said Republicans and Democrats were offering prayers and sharing information about their wounded colleagues and staffers. But on key policy issues, like the Republican health care overhaul, Merkley said Republicans tactics continue to alienate the minority party.

Merkley called Republican closed-door efforts to craft health care legislation, “the most partisan thing most of us have ever seen.”

Merkley pressed for grassroots activists to get involved — something he predicts will happen if or when the bill’s proposals are publicized. He said there’s a reason Republicans are hiding what’s in the bill.

“People across the country will be infuriated if they see the details,” Merkley said. “They will overflow the email, they will fill the streets, they will flood the phones — then (Republicans) will lose the majority vote they need to pass the bill. So that’s why they’re hiding this bill.”

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