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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) at a rally announcing the Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground Act of 2015, a bill that prohibits the issuance of new leases or renewal of non-producing leases for coal, oil and natural gas on all federal lands and waters. (Photo: Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) at a rally announcing the Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground Act of 2015, a bill that prohibits the issuance of new leases or renewal of non-producing leases for coal, oil and natural gas on all federal lands and waters. (Photo: Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

'Determined Leader' Sanders Nabs First Senate Endorsement

'We need urgency,' declared Sen. Jeff Merkley. 'We need big ideas. We need to rethink the status quo.'

Lauren McCauley

Citing the need for "urgency" and "big ideas" to take on dueling threats to democracy and the planet, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon broke with his Democratic colleagues and became the first U.S. Senator to endorse Bernie Sanders for president.

Despite the "uphill battle ahead," Sanders' "leadership...and willingness to fearlessly stand up to the powers that be have galvanized a grass-roots movement," wrote Merkley, announcing his endorsement Wednesday in a New York Times op-ed. "People know that we don't just need better policies, we need a wholesale rethinking of how our economy and our politics work, and for whom they work."

Merkley explained how growing up in "working-class Oregon," his single-income household was able to lead a middle-class life: "buy a home, take a vacation and help pay for college."

Now, living in that very same community, Merkley says that "the outlook for the kids growing up there is a lot gloomier today."

"Many middle-class Americans are working longer for less income than decades ago, even while big-ticket expenses like housing, health care and college have relentlessly pushed higher," he writes. 

"It is not that America is less wealthy than 40 years ago—quite the contrary," he says, adding that the problem is that the economy "both by accident and design, has become rigged to make a fortunate few very well off while leaving most Americans struggling to keep up."

At the same time, Merkley continues, political power has also become more concentrated as "special interests, aided by their political and judicial allies, have exercised an ever-tighter grip on our political system, from the rise of unlimited, secret campaign spending to a voter suppression movement."

"We need urgency. We need big ideas. We need to rethink the status quo," he states.

Merkley acknowledges the "remarkable record" of former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, adding that "she would be a strong and capable president."

"But Bernie Sanders," he writes, "is boldly and fiercely addressing the biggest challenges facing our country."

From his committed opposition to trade deals, Wall Street greed, and corrupt campaign finance laws to Sanders' recognition that, in order to stave off "global warming—the greatest threat facing humanity," we must "keep the vast bulk of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground," Merkley writes that "Bernie is a determined leader."

"It is time to recommit ourselves to that vision of a country that measures our nation’s success not at the boardroom table, but at kitchen tables across America," Merkley concludes. "Bernie Sanders stands for that America, and so I stand with Bernie Sanders for president."

Speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday, Merkley said that he's optimistic that Sanders will be able to win the Oregon primary on May 17, during which the Democratic candidates will vie for the state's 61 pledged delegates.

When asked why he is "swimming against the political tide," Merkley listed Sanders' leadership on "issue after issue," and declared "this really is all about the person who has the boldest and most fierce vision on the biggest issues facing America and the world."

The key endorsement comes less than a week before Sanders and Clinton face off in the April 19th New York primary


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