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Merkley focuses on Oregon, postpones decision on 2020 bid

In this Monday, Jan. 21, 2019 photo provided by Zoe Selsky, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley holds a town hall at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Ore. On a day when another U.S. senator formally entered the 2020 presidential race, Merkley, who's also pondering a run, seemed content to just be a senator by holding a town hall back in his home state of Oregon. (Zoe Selsky via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Sen. Jeff Merkley, one of the most vocal critics of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, seemed content to meet with constituents in Oregon and did not say if he’ll run for president in 2020.

Merkley has been postponing a decision on a White House bid for some time. Last year, he said he’d decide soon after the November midterm election. Now, he says he’ll decide before the end of this first quarter.

Nine Democrats have declared their intentions to run — the most recent was Sen. Kamala Harris from California.

“One every day,” Merkley said with a grin during an interview Monday before he hosted a town hall in a community college in Salem, Oregon’s capital city.

Deciding whether to run is a gamble as Merkley faces an ever-expanding field of Democrats and would have to abandon the option of being elected to the Senate for a third term — unless the Oregon Legislature changes the law.

Merkley gained some name recognition nationally last June, when he tried to enter a federal facility in Texas where immigrant children were being held. An aide videotaped the scene as he was refused entry and police were called. The video quickly gained over 1 million views in a day, and was repeated in newscasts across the country.

At a town hall Monday, Merkley — wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a work shirt — described his efforts to stop the internment of immigrant children, including through his introduction of the “No Internment Camps Act.”

The Oregon Democrat said it was “spooky” that in this era, legislation in America would have internment camps in its title.

Merkley, the son of a millwright, was first elected to the Senate in 2008 and handily won re-election six years later.

Asked if he might prefer to be in the Senate if Democrats gain control in 2020, Merkley said: “Well I tell you, I’ve been in the majority, and I’ve been in the minority, and the majorities are better.”

He said senators have a huge ability to influence the direction of policy, even if they’re not the chair of a committee or subcommittee. Merkley is a member of the appropriations committee; the environment and public works committee; the foreign relations committee and the budget committee.

Merkley, to support Democratic candidates for other offices in key states, has hired field staff in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. They could also assist in laying the groundwork for a presidential run. He has already visited Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, states that have early primaries and caucuses in the presidential sweepstakes.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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