SISTERS —

Speaking to a crowd of about 200 Central Oregonians in the Sisters High School auditorium, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., called for expanding Medicare and improving public education. During the hourlong town hall meeting Wednesday, Merkley also promised to stand up to the Trump administration on issues like gun control and the proposal to shrink or eliminate certain national monuments.

“I think what we’ve seen from President Trump is that he’s lived his life stepping on other people,” he said.

The event was part of a series of town hall meetings in Central and Southern Oregon, aimed at highlighting Merkley’s recent work and updating residents on where he stands on various hot-button issues. The senator visited Sisters and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on Wednesday, the final two stops on a circuit that also included trips to Klamath Falls and Lakeview on Tuesday.

Proposed gun-control measures have grabbed headlines in Oregon and across the nation, and Merkley said his town hall meeting in Lakeview on Tuesday attracted a sizable and coordinated pro-Second Amendment contingent, which loudly opposed specific gun regulations. In Sisters, however, the vast majority of the crowd raised their hands when Merkley asked if they would support a stronger national framework for background checks, increased research on the impact of gun violence and a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines.

Responding to a question from a high school student from Sisters, Merkley compared deaths from guns nationwide in 2016 to deaths from automobiles to make a point about the need for increased gun control.

“We don’t want moments of silence; we want moments of action,” he said.

Matt Cowell, who attended the town hall representing the Bend chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said he was pleased with the senator’s comments about gun control.

“I thought it was constructive, with common-sense solutions,” Cowell said.

The loudest cheer came after Merkley vowed to protect existing health care options and doubled down on prior calls to expand Medicare.

“How about a simple, seamless system where you have health care just by virtue of living here in the United States?” he said.

Toward the end of the event, Sisters resident Michael Cooper asked the senator about his support for national monuments. Merkley said he was proud of his work spearheading the controversial expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in 2017, and vowed to push back on the Trump administration’s efforts to shrink national monuments.

“Let me tell you, Teddy Roosevelt would not shut down or eliminate our national monuments, and neither should this administration,” Merkley said.

Cooper, an avid climber and mountain biker, said after the town hall meeting that he was happy with the senator’s response.

“Our national monuments are something that I, along with you and everyone else, own,” he said.

Before the meeting, Merkley discussed elements of the $1.3 trillion spending bill recently passed by Congress. He said he pushed for aspects like expanding funding for housing and broadband internet in rural communities, as well as finding a congressional fix for “fire borrowing,” where the costs of wildland firefighting exceed the amount of money budgeted for it.

Despite his support for elements of the spending bill, Merkley voted against it in March because it left people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in limbo.

“I thought it was important to draw attention to that,” he said.

Merkley met with the New Hampshire Democratic Party executive committee in March, prompting questions about whether he was planning to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. When asked about running, Merkley said he is “keeping the option open” but focusing on helping his fellow Democrats in midterm elections later this year.

“I’d like to see the balance of power shift in the Senate so that the issues affecting ordinary working families … can get fully addressed,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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