Ammon Bundy speaks with reporters Monday.

Ammon Bundy speaks with reporters Monday. Rick Bowmer/AP

How D.C. Politicians are Downplaying the Oregon Standoff

Politicians are taking pains not to inflame the takeover of a federal wildlife refuge by armed, antigovernment protesters.

Lots of GOP politi­cians dis­like the In­teri­or De­part­ment—the fed­er­al agency that owns vast swaths of land in west­ern states and reg­u­lates ac­cess for graz­ing, min­ing, drilling, and more—and want to hand more con­trol to states and loc­al gov­ern­ments.

House Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rob Bish­op and GOP col­league Chris Stew­art even launched a co­ali­tion of law­makers last year aimed at find­ing ways to trans­fer own­er­ship of pub­lic lands.

But con­ser­vat­ive politi­cians’ dis­taste for the de­part­ment, of­ten backed up by heated rhet­or­ic about fed­er­al over­reach, isn’t trans­lat­ing in­to sup­port for the armed, right-wing mil­it­ants who have taken over the headquar­ters of Ore­gon’s Mal­heur Na­tion­al Wild­life Refuge.

Bish­op, through an aide, cri­ti­cized the mil­it­ants’ ac­tions.

“Chair­man Bish­op does not sup­port the use of vi­ol­ence or threats of vi­ol­ence as means to ad­dress griev­ances. The com­mit­tee will con­tin­ue to mon­it­or de­vel­op­ments on the refuge. We are hope­ful this situ­ation is re­solved peace­fully,” spokes­man Par­ish Braden said in a state­ment to Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Com­ing days could sig­nal how much Belt­way politi­cians are will­ing to con­demn the oc­cu­pa­tion.

Rep. Raul Gri­jalva, the top Demo­crat on the Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee that over­sees In­teri­or, is pre­par­ing to in­tro­duce a form­al res­ol­u­tion that ex­presses dis­ap­prov­al of the takeover un­fold­ing in Ore­gon, an aide said.

The oc­cu­pa­tion is also gar­ner­ing little sym­pathy among Re­pub­lic­ans on the White House cam­paign trail as Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio, and Rand Paul as well as New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie all con­demned the ac­tion.  

Cruz called on the pro­test­ers to “stand down,” be­cause the right to con­sti­tu­tion­al right to protest doesn’t ex­tend to the “right to use force and vi­ol­ence and to threaten force and vi­ol­ence against oth­ers.”

Christie told con­ser­vat­ive ra­dio host Hugh He­witt: “The most im­port­ant thing is you have to make clear to folks that the law will be en­forced, that laws mat­ter, and that the law will be en­forced.”

Ru­bio, for his part, sought to bal­ance com­mon GOP at­tacks on the reach of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment with his dis­agree­ment with the ac­tions in Ore­gon. He told an Iowa ra­dio sta­tion that while there’s too much fed­er­al con­trol of lands in west­ern states, people have “got to fol­low the law.”

“There are states for ex­ample like Nevada that are dom­in­ated by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in terms of land-hold­ing and we should fix it, but no one should be do­ing it in a way that’s out­side the law. We are a na­tion of laws, we should fol­low those laws, and they should be re­spec­ted,” Ru­bio said.

Rand Paul, who met with Cliven Bundy last year, struck a sim­il­ar tone Monday. 

“I’m sym­path­et­ic to the idea that the large col­lec­tion of fed­er­al lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through polit­ics,” Paul said in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post. “I don’t sup­port any vi­ol­ence or sug­ges­tion of vi­ol­ence to­ward chan­ging policy.”

Cruz once ap­peared to be sym­path­et­ic to Bundy, whose cachet among con­ser­vat­ive politi­cians fell when he made ra­cially in­flam­mat­ory com­ments after his 2014 stan­doff with In­teri­or over graz­ing rights.

Cruz said in 2014 that while the de­tails of the graz­ing-fee stan­doff “may be com­plic­ated,” it res­on­ated be­cause for five years, “we have seen our liberty un­der as­sault from a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that seems hell-bent on ex­pand­ing its au­thor­ity over every as­pect of our lives.”

He de­cried the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s use of the “jack­boot of au­thor­it­ari­an­ism to come against the cit­izens.”

But one lib­er­al-lean­ing ana­lyst said that while con­ser­vat­ive politi­cians are cri­ti­ciz­ing the ac­tions of the pro­test­ers, they can’t simply un­teth­er them­selves from such act­iv­ists, even if they re­ject their tac­tics.

“How of­ten have we heard some­body like Ted Cruz talk about how the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is tyr­an­nic­al?,” said Eric Eth­ing­ton, the com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for Polit­ic­al Re­search As­so­ci­ates, a left-lean­ing Bo­ston-area group that mon­it­ors right-wing move­ments.

“If you are go­ing to play to that crowd’s sym­path­ies by us­ing their rhet­or­ic, then you don’t get to walk away from the situ­ation and their ac­tions,” said Eth­ing­ton, who said the takeover in Ore­gon is rooted in the broad­er an­ti­gov­ern­ment “pat­ri­ot” move­ment.

The White House, mean­while, em­phas­ized re­peatedly Monday that loc­al law en­force­ment of­fi­cials are tak­ing the lead.

White House spokes­man Josh Earn­est told re­port­ers that the FBI is work­ing with loc­al law en­force­ment to re­solve the situ­ation and ex­pressed hope for peace­ful res­ol­u­tion. But there are no ap­par­ent ef­forts un­der way to force the oc­cu­pi­ers from the fa­cil­ity.

The oc­cu­pa­tion began over the week­end after a demon­stra­tion over the pris­on sen­ten­cing for a fath­er-son pair of ranch­ers con­victed of ar­son on fed­er­al lands.

But the ac­tion—led by Bundy’s sons—has be­come a broad­er protest against the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and land-use policies.

Ry­an Bundy told The As­so­ci­ated Press that he hopes that the ac­tion in Ore­gon will prompt takeover of oth­er fed­er­ally man­aged lands to en­sure they can be used for ranch­ing and oth­er pur­suits.

“The end goal here is that we are here to re­store the rights to the people here so that they can use the land and re­sources. All of them,” Bundy said, telling the AP that he’s re­fer­ring to the abil­ity to use lands for graz­ing, min­ing, log­ging, and hunt­ing and fish­ing.