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Sanders Gets His First Senate Endorsement at Last

Sanders Gets His First Senate Endorsement at Last

NEW YORK — Hillary Clinton won the early public support of virtually every Democratic senator. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, openly loathed among his Republican colleagues, is slowly gaining grudging endorsements. Donald Trump recently secured the backing of Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, narrowly beat out by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has one more Senate endorsement than primary victory.

Democrat Bernie Sanders, by contrast, had the lonely distinction of being the only U.S. presidential candidate in the 2016 race without an endorsement from his fellow senators. That finally changed Wednesday morning, courtesy of a lawmaker almost as liberal as the Vermont socialist.

In an early morning release, the Sanders campaign said the Democratic presidential candidate would announce a new endorsement later Wednesday morning in Brooklyn, the New York borough where Sanders was born and acquired his distinctive accent. But Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon announced his own endorsement earlier in a New York Times op-ed.

“[The president] is more than the manager of the executive branch, commander in chief, or appointer of judges,” Merkley wrote. “The president reflects, but also helps define, our national values, priorities, and direction. After considering the biggest challenges facing our nation and the future I want for my children and our country, I have decided to become the first member of the Senate to support my colleague Bernie Sanders for president.”

Merkley’s endorsement comes as a welcome end to Sanders’ dry spell of Senate endorsements as he aggressively campaigns against rival Clinton before the New York primary on Tuesday. Later Wednesday, Sanders earned another key supporter: New York’s transit workers union, representing some 42,000 workers in the region.

Sanders has won eight of the last nine contests but trails Clinton by 220 delegates. In New York, seen as a vital test of his momentum, Sanders is some 13 points behind in the state, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average on Wednesday. He has about 39 percent support, with Clinton notching the remainder, roughly 53 percent. 

Merkley, hailing from liberal Oregon, sits on the powerful Appropriations and Budget committees in the Senate. He worked as a national security analyst at the Pentagon and the Congressional Budget Office before returning to Oregon to become a state lawmaker, and eventually coming back to Washington when elected to Congress. He’s since become one of the party’s most progressive lawmakers, railing against Wall Street big banks, spearheading legislation for protections against workplace discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, and leading a Democratic fight against abuse of the filibuster. He has sponsored legislation with Sanders, seeking greater accountability for the VA in the wake of its wait-time scandal in 2014, when Sanders was chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Merkley has also broken with some Democratic Party leaders by emerging as a staunch advocate of civil liberties in the ongoing debates over government surveillance and encryption.

In his op-ed, Merkley called the Republican presidential primary “a circus” but also acknowledged Sanders’ narrowing — if not soon to be dead-ended — path to the Democratic nomination and offered some praise to Clinton.

“She would be a strong and capable president,” he wrote before touting Sanders’ opposition to trade deals that have resulted in loss of American jobs and fierce advocacy for renewable energy and banking reforms. “It has been noted that Bernie has an uphill battle ahead of him to win the Democratic nomination.”

Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Stringer