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Why Merkley Supports Sanders When A Majority Of Senators Back Clinton

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're joined now by the only U.S. Senator to back Bernie Sanders, his fellow senator, for president. He's Jeff Merkley of Oregon. And he's in our studios on this morning that Sanders is in danger of slipping farther behind Hillary Clinton. Senator, welcome to the program.

JEFF MERKLEY: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

INSKEEP: Can your man still win?

MERKLEY: There is definitely a path to victory. It's an uphill path. We've known that. But he keeps astounding the country with the degree to which his message resonates through grassroots communities across the nation.

INSKEEP: Although there's the brutal practicality of delegates here to deal with, isn't there?

MERKLEY: Well, that is a challenge. And certainly, that's what I meant by it being an uphill climb. But you think about that some of these races today are going to be very close. He may win a couple of them. And then it's on to a more friendly territory in Indiana and Kentucky and Oregon.

INSKEEP: Now, let's remind people there are pledged delegates, who are won through primaries and caucuses. There are superdelegates, who are party officials. Is your man going to stay in even if he falls hopelessly behind in pledged delegates - he could no longer win a majority of pledged delegates?

MERKLEY: Well, certainly the conversation and dialogue across America has been hugely valuable to the party. It's energizing the conversation about the big issues that we face in trade, in global warming, certainly in the creation of living wage jobs. And I think it's important for the entire nation to be able to participate. If we think about eight years previous when Hillary was on the other side of this equation, chasing from behind, the conversation went through mid-June. And I expect to see something similar.

INSKEEP: So that's a yes, you expect him to stay in no matter what the number is?

MERKLEY: Absolutely, yes.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask if it's possible that you could actually damage the party or the perspective nominee in this situation? Sen. Sanders has sharpened and sharpened his attacks on Sen. Clinton, particularly in recent weeks, questioning whether she should release speech transcripts given to Wall Street groups, which is basically questioning whether she's been bought by Wall Street, whether she's been entirely transparent. Are you damaging your party's eventual nominee?

MERKLEY: No, I don't think so. These types of questions are going to be raised in the general. For example, the Secretary Clinton's team has been pushing very hard on tax returns. And I believe all those should be completely released, Bernie should release those. Bernie has been pushing hard that the speeches that you gave are relevant to where you stand. Those should be released. The citizens should know. These issues are going to come up in the general anyway.

This is a place where they're working out their stories or deciding what information to provide, and they're wrestling over these big issues. The reason I'm endorsing Bernie is because on the big issues facing America, living wage jobs and global warming and the role of cash in campaigns, he's been a very bold and fierce leader, saying the current paradigm is just not working for America. We have to stretch a lot further.

And it's that sort of energy about changing the direction our country is on so that we can restore the success in the middle class that I think is so important to our future.

INSKEEP: Does he have the breath of thinking and the flexibility of mind to be chief executive?

MERKLEY: Oh, absolutely. If you followed his career, he's been effective in every single role he's had. He was an enormously effective mayor, reshaping Burlington, Vt. In the House, he was known as the king of amendments. He was called that because he was more successful in doing amendments than the other 435 House members. That's something pretty amazing. In the Senate, he has brought together Democrats and Republicans behind a major veterans bill.

He was the force that expanded the federally qualified health centers, at which - they are the front door to our health care system for millions of low-income Americans. And so it's very important for people to realize time and time again, he's been enormously effective.

INSKEEP: Just got about 30 seconds, Senator. The Oregon primary is coming up pretty soon. The mail-in balloting is beginning shortly. Do you really believe that Sanders is a right fit for your state?

MERKLEY: Oh, he is definitely a very good fit for our state because citizens in Oregon have really been hit hard by the loss of living wage jobs due to trade agreements where we're competing directly with people who earn less than a dollar an hour overseas. When you make that kind of an agreement, it's an unlevel playing field. And the result is that our manufacturing jobs go overseas. And that's something that Bernie deeply understands and is determined to change.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks very much for coming by this morning.

MERKLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Jeff Merkley, United States senator, Democrat of Oregon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.