On the eve of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley stood on the Senate Room floor at 4 in the morning and read aloud dozens of stories sent to him by women detailing their experiences with sexual assault.
The Senate Room was sparsely populated, hours before dawn, when Merkley took the podium to contest the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh who has been accused by three women of sexual harassment and assault. The Republicans, fearing they wouldn’t have enough votes to confirm the embattled Judge, agreed to a one week FBI investigation “Limited in scope and to be concluded no later than one week.” The FBI finished 3 day early, never spoke to witnesses, accusers, or even the accused. The President of the United States and his allies deliberately repressed key information, text messages and testimonies that demonstrated Kavanaugh had perjured himself under oath.
Although no other senators attended, Merkley spoke only to a small audience of interns, recorders and the Presiding Officer for two solid hours. While it may seem odd for a Senator to speak to a small audience to whom his speech would be ultimately inconsequential as none were voters, he chose to do it for the sake of official record. It wasn’t just his words that he relayed for document, but that of dozens of assault survivors who had written to him, urging him to vote against the confirmation of a judge with questionable character. Merkley was so moved by the stories, he likely felt that he would be serving women around the country a grave disservice if he did not use his position to amplify their voices, and he represented those women with incredible dignity during his two hour speech.
Merkley’s appearance in the early morning of October 5th were broadcast live on C-SPAN, and social media users watched the Oregonian become visibly emotional as he delivered moving, unsettling accounts from women.
Senator Merkley may have only had the opportunity to speak to America’s night owls or early birds, but his speech remains one of the most powerful ever given on behalf of women from a government official.
However, this isn’t the first time Merkley has used his platform to drawn attention to or publicly challenge social injustices that plague America’s most vulnerable communities.
After Republicans blocked former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland claiming it was inappropriate for him to do so during an election year, they left the seat vacant for 293 days until they gained the house majority. After the election, they immediately fast-tracked the confirmation of their own heavily conservative nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Even by those standards, the confirmation of Kavanaugh was even further expedited in an effort to place him on the highest court in the Nation just 30 days before Midterm elections.
So much for following their own rules of delaying a Supreme Court appointee during an election year.
It was because of that gross hypocrisy that Merkley spoke on the record to protest such corrupt, partisan behavior in politics for a marathon 15 hours.
Merkley was also one of the only US Senators who, in early 2018 in the wake of the the Trump administrations Zero Tolerance Immigration policy that allowed ICE agents to detain those fleeing dangerous countries at the border and separate children from from their families in concentration camp-like conditions. Due to administrative negligence, US immigration somehow lost over 1,000 children in the system. He was turned away at the gate of one such camp and then had local authorities called on him for trespassing.
Merkley’s efforts as a Senator serving the American people reach beyond the gilded walls of Senate. Time and time again he shown himself to be invested in causes that effect all of our lives. Unlike his colleagues who reign from towers far above the rest of us, Merkley serves on the ground, going above the call of duty to fight for justice and enforce equality in a contentious era where it is severely lacking.
Merkley is a rare specimen in Senate- he recognizes that his time belongs to those who provided him such a platform and despite so much ridicule perpetrated by Republicans both in the Senate and the public, he stands out as a Man that history will remember as a Hero.