Republican presidential contenders are beginning to break their silence about the tense standoff between law enforcement and an anti-government militia.
The armed, anti-government group is protesting the jail sentences of two men who set fire to federal land.
It has occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon since Saturday, as part of a dispute over the federal government’s ownership of large swaths of land in some western states.
Led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy — the sons of Cliven Bundy, a rancher who made in headlines in 2014 for his own tense standoff with the federal government, as well as his inflammatory statements about African-Americans — the group is aiming to force the government to cede federal land to private individuals.
“We’re planning on staying here for several years. And while we’re here what we’re going to be doing is freeing these lands up and getting the ranchers back to ranching, getting the miners back to mining,” Ammon Bundy said in a Facebook video (which has since been taken down or made private).
Federal-land use is a somewhat prominent issue in western US states, including the electorally important states of Nevada and Colorado. The topic resonates with many conservatives who feel the federal government’s land ownership is excessive or unconstitutional.
Some Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and Donald Trump previously expressed sympathy for Cliven Bundy’s stand during in 2014, and both Paul and Carson have also called for turning federal land over to states and private interests.
But some of those same politicians are singing a different tune in the early throes of the Oregon standoff.
Here’s a look at how candidates have reacted thus far:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
As BuzzFeed reported, Rubio told Iowa radio station KBUR on Monday that the protesters should obey the law and lift their occupation of the wildlife center.
“You cannot be lawless. We live in a Republic. There are ways to change the laws of this country and the policies. And if we get frustrated by it, that’s why we have elections,” Rubio said.
Rubio indicated that he sympathized with the protesters’ cause, but said he did not support their aggressive tactics.
“I agree that there’s too much federal control over land, especially out in the western part of the US. There are states like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land-owning. And we should fix it,” Rubio said. “But no one should be doing it in a way that’s outside the law.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Cruz — who carefully noted his sympathy for Cliven Bundy’s 2014 protest against the federal government — said that he hoped the militia group would stand down, and that he we “praying” for law enforcement officers involved in the standoff
“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. We don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence, and to threaten force and violence on others,” Cruz said. “And so it’s our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)
According to NBC reporter Danny Freeman, Kasich appeared unaware of the standoff’s details.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)
Paul reportedly met with Cliven Bundy earlier this year to discuss federal and state land-management policy. And earlier this summer during a campaign event in Nevada, Paul answered a question on the topic posed by Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother and Cliven’s son.
When asked about Paul’s position on the standoff, his campaign pointed Business Insider to the senator’s comments to The Washington Post.
“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, according to The Post. “That’s why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania)
In a CNN interview on Monday, Santorum said he understood the grievances that protesters have with the federal government. But he said breaking the law was not an appropriate solution.
“These are folks who have legitimate grievances with the government, just like you could argue that the Occupy Wall Street had legitimate grievances about income inequality,” Santorum said. “And we have room for protesters, we have room for people protesting their rights. At the same time, there are consequences that have to be paid for people who do break the law.”
He added: “But going through a situation where someone is going to get hurt … that’s not a good solution.”
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