Jeff Merkley was born in Myrtle Creek, Ore., and currently resides in Portland. He is the son of a sawmill worker, and was the first in his family to go to college. He earned his bachelor's degree from Stanford University and his master's degree from Princeton University.
His background includes stints as a national security analyst at the Pentagon and time spent leading the World Affairs Council, a Portland-based international affairs group. He also worked as the director of Habitat for Humanity in Portland.
Merkley was elected to the Oregon House in 1999 and became House speaker in 2007. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.
He and his wife, Mary, have two children.
Jeff Merkley fought mightily to change the U.S. Senate's rules, attempting to get rid of a provision that, in effect, requires 60 votes to advance controversial legislation. But he fell short. The freshman senator was unable to convince his colleagues to strike the rule from a Senate that values tradition and seniority.
Merkley may have lost the fight in January 2011, but the raised his profile among liberal activists frustrated that Republicans have used the so-called filibuster rule to thwart the agendas of President Barack Obama and other Democrats. An analysis by National Journal, a magazine covering Capitol Hill, found Merkley tied for the Senate's most liberal voting record in 2011.
After traveling to Afghanistan in August 2011, Merkley reaffirmed his position that the U.S. mission there should be scaled back. He's called for the United States to remove regular forces from the country by the end of 2012, two years faster than President Obama had planned.
Closer to home, Merkley has fought to give the U.S. Interior Department the authority to decide whether to act on a controversial proposal to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California to help salmon while creating an agreement to share water between fish and farms.
He was one of four Democrats in the Senate to support the use of a parliamentary procedure to get around Republican opposition and put a "public option" in the 2010 health care reform bill. The public option was a priority for liberals, but the move was unsuccessful.
Merkley is proud of the language he got into a financial reform bill signed in July 2010 prohibiting banks from using their own money to make speculative trades and making deals that bet against their own customers. However, implementation of the Volcker Rule, as it's known, has been delayed. Merkley also inserted a requirement that banks and financial institutions set aside money to cover potential losses.
As state House speaker, Merkley cracked down on predatory payday loan practices in Oregon. He requested, and was given, a seat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He said he sought the post because the banking panel "will play a key role in the debate over how to reform and revitalize our financial markets while protecting consumers and homeowners from the kinds of predatory practices that have contributed to the current crisis." He voted for the approximately $800 billion economic stimulus package promoted by Obama in February 2009.
Merkley has supported a permanent ban on offshore drilling on the West Coast. The state Legislature has already prohibited drilling 3 miles off the coast, but the federal jurisdiction extends another 200 miles offshore.
During his Senate campaign, some critics said Merkley as a candidate was unflashy to a fault — a policy-driven wonk who was more comfortable discussing the details of, say, energy commodity marketing, than kissing babies on the campaign trail.
Merkley's defeat of Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in 2008 gave Oregon two Democratic senators for the first time in 40 years. In the early going, Merkley and fellow Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden have enjoyed close working relations. Together they have voted for legislation requiring fair pay for women, expanding children's health programs and increasing wilderness protections for areas on and around Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge.
Committee Assignments: Environment and Public Works; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Budget
American Conservative Union Rating: 5
Americans for Democratic Action Rating: 95
Jeff Merkley won his May 2014 primary, he will face Monica Wehby in November.
(Last updated by The Associated Press on June 10, 2014.)