Ronald Lee Wyden (/ˈwaɪdən/; born May 3, 1949) is an American politician serving as the senior United States Senator for Oregon since 1996. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served in the United States House of Representatives from 1981 until 1996. He is the current dean of Oregon's congressional delegation.
|United States Senator
February 5, 1996
Serving with Jeff Merkley
|Preceded by||Bob Packwood|
|Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee|
January 3, 2015
|Preceded by||Orrin Hatch|
|Chair of the Senate Finance Committee|
February 12, 2014 – January 3, 2015
|Preceded by||Max Baucus|
|Succeeded by||Orrin Hatch|
|Chair of the Senate Energy Committee|
January 3, 2013 – February 12, 2014
|Preceded by||Jeff Bingaman|
|Succeeded by||Mary Landrieu|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oregon's 3rd district
January 3, 1981 – February 5, 1996
|Preceded by||Robert Duncan|
|Succeeded by||Earl Blumenauer|
|Born||Ronald Lee Wyden
May 3, 1949
Wichita, Kansas, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Laurie Oseran (divorced)
Nancy Bass (2005–present)
|Education||University of California, Santa Barbara
Stanford University (BA)
University of Oregon (JD)
Wyden was born Ronald Lee Wyden in Wichita, Kansas, the son of Edith (née Rosenow) and Peter H. Wyden (originally Weidenreich, 1923–1998), both of whom were Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany. Wyden grew up in Palo Alto, California, where he played basketball for Palo Alto High School. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, on a basketball scholarship, and later transferred to Stanford University where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1971. He received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Oregon School of Law in 1974.
While teaching gerontology at several Oregon universities, Wyden founded the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, which he led from 1974 to 1980. Wyden also served as the director of the Oregon Legal Services Center for Elderly, a nonprofit law service.
Wyden ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1980. During the Democratic primary, Wyden, who was just 31 years old at the time, upset incumbent Representative Bob Duncan in Oregon's 3rd congressional district, which includes most of Portland. Later that fall, Wyden easily defeated his Republican opponent, Darrell Conger, with 71 percent of the vote. The 3rd has long been the most Democratic district in Oregon, and Wyden was reelected seven times from this district, never dropping below 70 percent of the vote.
In January 1996, Wyden narrowly defeated Oregon State Senate President Gordon Smith in a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Bob Packwood. Smith won a separate November 1996 Senate election to succeed the retiring Mark Hatfield, and Smith and Wyden served together until Smith's defeat in 2008 by Democrat Jeff Merkley. Wyden holds the Senate seat that was once held by the late Wayne Morse, a man whom Wyden worked for in the summer of 1968 when he served as Morse's driver, and whom Wyden calls his mentor.
Wyden was elected to a full term in 1998 with 61 percent of the vote, and in 2004, was re-elected to another full term, receiving 64% of the vote compared to 31% for his main opponent, Republican Al King. In 2010, he was re-elected with 57% of the vote, over his main opponent, Jim Huffman, who garnered 39%. In 2016, he was re-elected again with 56% of the vote over Republican opponent Mark Callahan, who earned 34% of the vote.
Wyden characterizes himself as an "independent voice for Oregonians and the nation" and emphasizes his positions on health care reform, national security, consumer protection, and government transparency. On the Issues characterizes him as a "Hard-Core Liberal."
On March 6, 2013, Wyden crossed party lines to join Republican Senator Rand Paul who was engaged in a talking filibuster to block voting on the nomination of John O. Brennan as the Director of the CIA. Wyden joined in, questioning the use of drones.
During the filibuster, Wyden, addressing the presiding officer, said "Mr. President, what it comes down to is every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them."
Politico reported that Wyden's ascent to Chair of the Senate Finance Committee would vault him into the ranks of the Chamber's most influential.
He was praised for his ability to defuse partisan tensions and encourage bipartisan cooperation.
On November 10, 2005, Wyden was one of five Senate Democrats who joined 44 Republicans in voting "yes" on Amendment no. 2516, brought to the floor by Republican senator Lindsey Graham, which ruled that enemy combatants did not have the right to Habeas Corpus.
Wyden was one of 23 Senators to vote against the authorization of military force in Iraq in 2002. In 2003, Wyden voted to bar excessive overseas deployments of members of the National Guard and Reserves. In 2006, Wyden was one of 13 Senators to vote to require the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq by July 2007, and was one of 39 Senators to vote to call on the President to begin withdrawing forces from Iraq and establish a timeline for withdrawal. Wyden also voted many other times for withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, against funding for the war without binding timelines, and against the establishment of permanent military bases in Iraq. Wyden also opposed President Obama's plan for a "troop surge" in Afghanistan in 2009.
In 2007 Wyden sponsored (with Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the House), the Stop Arming Iran Act, which would have barred the Defense Department from selling surplus F-14 parts and prohibit buyers who have already acquired surplus Tomcat parts from exporting them in order to prevent Iran from acquiring the parts.
In 2011, Wyden supported the no-fly zone and military intervention in Libya in order to protect civilians, stating that "The violence of Colonel Gaddafi against his own people is a humanitarian crisis. I support the international effort to protect the civilians of Libya." However, Wyden also stressed that his support was not unlimited and that he expected that the military action would be completed quickly. Wyden, along with fellow Senator Merkley and President Obama, agreed that U.S. forces should not be on the ground in Libya.
Wyden's office has questioned the CIA-led Timber Sycamore covert operation to train and arm Syrian rebels, releasing a statement that "the US is trying to build up the battlefield capabilities of the anti-Assad opposition, but they haven't provided the public with details about how this is being done, which US agencies are involved, or which foreign partners those agencies are working with."
In 2009 Wyden sponsored the Healthy Americans Act, an act that would institute a national system of market-based private insurance. Wyden was attacked by union interests for advocating replacement of the employer tax exclusion with a tax deduction that would apply to all Americans.
Wyden supported increasing Medicare funding, enrolling more of the uninsured in federal programs (although his Healthy Americans Act would eliminate many of these programs including Medicaid and SCHIP and replace them with private insurance), importing lower priced prescriptions from Canada, and negotiating bulk drug purchases for Medicare in order to lower costs.
In 2003 Wyden joined with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Trent Lott (R-MS) to help pass the Bush Administration's Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. The Bush Administration is alleged to have forced officials to hide its true cost, which later was triple its original claim. The bill has been criticized as favoring pharmaceutical companies, as it prohibits the federal government from negotiating prescription drug rates.
Not long after Tom Daschle's withdrawal as President Barack Obama's nominee as United States Secretary of Health and Human Services due to a scandal over his failure to pay taxes, The Oregonian reported that Senator Wyden was being touted by many healthcare experts as a likely candidate to succeed Daschle as secretary-designate. Although Wyden was ultimately passed over in favor of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, he took advantage of the interim to reintroduce his Healthy Americans Act, with additional co-sponsorship from Republican Senators led by Tennessee's Lamar Alexander and Utah's Bob Bennett as well as from fellow Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.
In late 2011 and early 2012, Wyden attracted attention for working with GOP House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan to develop a Medicare reform plan that would result in the semi-privatization of the system, provoking a negative response from Wyden's Democratic allies, including President Obama. The proposal would keep traditional Medicare as an option, though it would also introduce private health insurance companies into an exchange in which they would offer competing plans to be paid for with government vouchers.
Wyden supports free trade; while in the House, he voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement and has subsequently supported many trade deals in the Senate being one of the very few Democrats to vote in favor of the Central America Free Trade Agreement. He has, however, voted against free trade agreements with Chile, Singapore, and Oman.
Wyden supported the re-imposition of tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber in 2017, stating "Canadian policies... distort trade and hold American lumber businesses back from fully realizing their potential."
Wyden is a supporter of lifting the travel ban to Cuba as a more viable way to reach the Cuban people. With Senator Byron Dorgan, Wyden offered an unsuccessful amendment to end funding for TV Martí, an anti-Castro broadcasting project of the U.S. government aimed at Cuba. Dorgan and Wyden argued that the U.S. should "pull the plug on U.S. government television broadcasts to Cuba, broadcasts even the American government acknowledges Fidel Castro routinely jams and the Cuban people can't see." calling it a "complete and total waste of taxpayers' dollars" and noting that the transmissions would cost $21.1 million in the next year, but would "reach virtually no one in Cuba." The amendment was not adopted.
Wyden voted against the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, a Republican effort to restrict the number of class actions suits against businesses and the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, a bipartisan change in bankruptcy law designed to make it more difficult to file for bankruptcy and to make those in bankruptcy pay more of their debts. However, he voted for the previous Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2001 (S-420, substituted by amendment into H.R. 433) which contained many of the same provisions.
During the global financial crisis of 2007-2010, Wyden voted against the financial bailouts backed by the Bush administration. He did not vote on the automobile industry bailout, though he said he would have voted for cloture if he had been present. Wyden added, "While I continue to have concerns about ensuring that taxpayers are protected if this loan is to occur, I believe that if the President can unwisely provide $750 billion of taxpayer money for the investment banks who took horribly unacceptable risks and helped trigger an economic collapse, we certainly have a duty to attempt to preserve a cornerstone domestic industry and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of working people whose personal actions are in no way responsible for the current economic crisis."
Wyden was among several moderate Democratic senators who in early January 2009 criticized President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus plan, calling for a greater emphasis on "tangible infrastructure investments" and warning that an effort had to be made to differentiate it from the Bush bailouts Wyden had opposed. However, Wyden ultimately voted for the bill and voted mostly with his party on various amendments to the bill.
Wyden voted for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which would change federal law to allow federal money to fund embryonic stem-cell research, ending a federal ban. Wyden urged President George W. Bush to sign it, stating that "I see no reason why embryonic stem-cell research should be treated any differently than other research" in terms of federal grant funding. Bush vetoed the act twice. In 2007, Wyden, with fellow Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, again supported the bill.
Wyden is a supporter of environmental protection measures, and was among the minority of senators to vote against confirming the appointment of Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior. In May 2007, Wyden also opposed the appointment of Lyle Laverty as assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks (this time on ethical grounds).
On April 6, 2011, Wyden voted against limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. On March 22, 2013, he voted against concurrent resolution creating a point of order which would make it harder for Congress to put a price on carbon. In November 2015, he voted in support of the Obama administration Clean Power Plan.
In May 2014, in response to the National Climate Assessment, he said that the "report adds to the ever-growing body of scientific evidence and on-the-ground proof that the effects of climate change are already being felt in every region of the United States". In June 2014, he said that "climate change is the most important environmental challenge of our time".
Wyden is a supporter of legal abortion. In almost every year, Wyden has maintained a 100 percent rating or close to it with pro-choice groups: NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, and a 0 percent rating or close to it from pro-life group: the National Right to Life Committee. Wyden voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
Wyden has been an advocate of gun control. He voted against limiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers and has voted in favor of increasing background checks. Wyden also voted to renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
In late 1995, Wyden became the first U.S. Senate candidate (and then Senator) to publicly support same-sex marriage. He was one of just 14 Senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. He has voted against the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have proposed an amendment to the Constitution to bar recognition of same-sex marriages. Despite undergoing tests in advance of prostate surgery scheduled two days later, Wyden appeared up in the Senate chamber in December 2010 to vote for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.
In 2006, Wyden was one of 10 senators to vote against re-authorization of the Patriot Act. In 2011, with the expiration of the Patriot Act approaching and with efforts to reauthorize the Act once more intensifying, Wyden and fellow Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley sharply criticized the rush to pass the bill. Wyden stated on the Senate floor that "The Patriot Act was passed a decade ago during a period of understandable fear. Now is the time to revisit this, revisit it and ensure that a better job is done of striking that balance between fighting terror and protecting individual liberty." Wyden and Merkley expressed particular concern with a provision of current law allowing law enforcement authorities to collect "a vast array of business records, emails, phone numbers, [and] even DNA from anyone deemed 'relevant' to an investigation." Wyden offered an amendment to reform the "business-records provision" of the Patriot Act, which he views as being used in an abusive and secret way. In a May 2011 speech in the Senate, Wyden sharply criticized the use of Patriot Act, stating: "The fact is that anyone can read the plain text of the Patriot Act, and yet many members of Congress have no idea how the law is being secretly interpreted by the executive branch, because that interpretation is classified. It's almost as if there were two Patriot Acts, and many members of Congress have not read the one that matters. Our constituents, of course, are totally in the dark. Members of the public have no access to the secret legal interpretations, so they have no idea what their government believes the law actually means. In an interview for the documentary Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield Wyden was asked about legal reviews and the scope of potential assassinations (or "targeted killings") of American citizens by their government, and responded that "the American people would be extraordinarily surprised if they could see the difference between what they believe a law says and how it has actually been interpreted in secret," but that he "is not permitted" to disclose the difference publicly.
After The Guardian reported the existence of a NSA data-mining program called Boundless Informant in June 2013, Wyden said "Since government officials have repeatedly told the public and Congress that Patriot Act authorities are simply analogous to a grand jury subpoena, and that intelligence agencies do not collect information or dossiers on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, I think the executive branch has an obligation to explain whether or not these statements are actually true," according to The Guardian.
Wyden personally opposes assisted suicide and stated he voted against the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, first enacted in Oregon in 1997, each time it appeared on the ballot by voter referendum. However, Wyden successfully blocked congressional attempts to pass federal legislation to override Oregon's law. In 2000, Wyden blocked attempts in Congress to overturn the Oregon assisted-suicide law by threatening a filibuster. In 2001, Wyden wrote to President George W. Bush urging him to not alter the law through federal executive action. In 2005, he and four other Democratic members of Oregon's congressional delegation filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Gonzales v. Oregon in support of the State of Oregon, and praised the eventual decision to uphold the law. In 2006, Wyden informed Senate leadership that he would block legislation overturning the Death with Dignity Act. Wyden said in 2009 that he will continue to "fight tooth and nail" to block new federal attempts to block the law.
Wyden is critical of the estate tax, which he feels is inefficient, and has voted repeatedly to abolish it. He co-authored the Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act, which bans internet taxes in the United States. He has also voted with Republicans to lower the capital gains tax, to encourage the study of the flat tax, and to require a 3/5 majority to raise taxes. However, Wyden voted against the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003. He has also voted against the balanced budget amendment.
Wyden supports lower corporate taxes and was generally supportive of the draft proposal for deficit reduction that was released by the chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in November 2010.
On November 19, 2010, Wyden announced he would take the steps necessary to put a hold on The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) so it is not enacted into law that year. If it were enacted, it would allow the Attorney General the authority to order internet providers in the US to block access to websites that were deemed to contain copyright infringement. This effectively requires the law to be resubmitted next year rather than be rushed through the system at the end of the congress. He stated:
"It seems to me that online copyright infringement is a legitimate problem, but it seems to me that COICA as written is the wrong medicine. Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile. The collateral damage of this statute could be American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet."
In June 2011, Wyden announced his "Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act" in partnership with Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). The bill, which is still under House consideration, would establish a legal framework for the sharing and access of private tracking data by corporations, individuals, and federal agencies.
Wyden was the first politician in Congress to stand against the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (in the House) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) (in the Senate) on the grounds that it would "step towards an Internet in which those with money and lawyers and access to power have a greater voice than those who don’t." Wyden delayed the PIPA in the Senate by placing a hold on the legislation in 2010, which prevented the bill from being considered by the full Senate even after it was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Wyden's hold was credited with "[g]iving time for the Internet to rally against" SOPA and PIPA. With Representative Darrell Issa in the House, Wyden also introduced the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act as an alternative to SOPA and PIPA.
Ezra Klein wrote: "Perhaps no single member of Congress deserves as much credit for slowing the advance" of the bills than Wyden, who for much of 2010 "fought a one-man battle to keep the Senate version of the legislation from moving through on a unanimous vote." Wyden was described as the "primary driver of opposition to the bill within the Senate."
When Senate leadership announced it was indefinitely postponing the bill following "massive protests" in January 2012, Wyden called it a "grassroots victory for the history books." For his role in fighting against SOPA and PIPA, Wyden was named one of the top ten most influential activists of 2012 by The Daily Dot.
Wyden's home is in Portland, Oregon, and he has an apartment in Washington, D.C. He has two grown children, Adam and Lilly, by his first wife, Laurie (née Oseran); they divorced in 1999 after 20 years of marriage. His son Adam Wyden is an entrepreneur and owner of a hedge fund, ADW Capital Partners LP.
Wyden married his current wife, Nancy Wyden (née Bass), daughter of Fred Bass and co-owner of New York's Strand Bookstore, on September 24, 2005. The couple have three children: twins born in 2007, and a daughter born in 2012.
On December 16, 2010, Wyden announced that the previous month he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in its very early stage from a routine screening. He underwent surgery on December 20 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The surgery was successful and Wyden quickly recovered and returned to Congress in January 2011.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oregon's 3rd congressional district
|Party political offices|
|Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Oregon
1996, 1998, 2004, 2010, 2016
|U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Oregon
Served alongside: Mark Hatfield, Gordon Smith, Jeff Merkley
|Chair of the Senate Energy Committee
|Chair of the Senate Finance Committee
|Chair of the Joint Taxation Committee
|Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee
|Current U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
|United States Senators by seniority