GOP Candidates, White House Urge Peaceful End to Oregon Standoff

January 4, 2016, 9:17 PM
PHOTO: Members of the group have been occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group has sent a "demand for redress" to local, state and federal officials.
Members of the group have been occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and has sent a "demand for redress" to local, state and federal officials.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

— -- Republican presidential candidates and the White House called Monday for a peaceful resolution to the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, a location where a group of militia members along with some family members of the Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, are occupying a building on federal land.

During a press conference in Boone, Iowa, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) urged the militia members to "stand down peacefully."

"Everyone has a Constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds, but we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and threaten force and violence on others," Cruz said.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sounded a similar note in an interview with KBUR in Oregon.

“You can’t be lawless," Rubio said in comments first reported by BuzzFeed. "We live in a republic. There are ways to change the laws of this country and the policies. If we get frustrated with it, that’s why we have elections. That’s why we have people we can hold accountable.”

Rubio said he did think "there is too much federal control over land, especially out in the western part of the United States."

"We should fix it," he said. "But no one should be doing it in a way that’s outside the law."

Militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon Saturday following a protest over the anticipated jailing of two ranchers on arson charges. The ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, reported for their prison term in San Pedro, Calif. Monday afternoon.

The group was "claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers," said Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, "when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to over throw the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States."

The tenor of some of the candidates' comments today differed from those made in spring of 2014, when some conservatives rallied to the defense of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management; members of Bundy's family are involved in the current standoff, and his son Ammon Bundy has functioned as a spokesman for the Oregon militia members in their takeover of the refuge.

Speaking to reporters after a town hall meeting in Staten Island, New York, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson weighed in. "I think it's ridiculous that the government owns so much land and that we should enact a program whereby we gradually begin to restore that land to the states," Carson said, while acknowledging, "we can't do it all in one fell swoop because they wouldn't be able to afford it."

Carson also said, "I think right now the government's handling it in the right way by not being confrontational."

From a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) called for balance from law enforcement in resolving the standoff.

"There has to be an appropriate mix of firmness in terms of the enforcement of the law and care to make sure that you do not unduly put human life at risk," Christie said. "In the end the job of law enforcement is to enforce the law."

He added, "The governor is going to have some very difficult decisions to make."

Rick Santorum took the hardest line, comparing the militia members to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

"I certainly don't like the tactics they're using, but I didn't like the tactics Occupy Wall Street was using," he told CNN, dismissing the objection that unlike the 2012 Occupy protesters, the militia members are armed. "This is a situation that has to be handled just like, unfortunately, they had to handle Occupy Wall Street. You sit down, negotiate, you don't want to spark a confrontation."

Meanwhile, the White House echoed concerns that the situation "be resolved peacefully without any violence,” but said it "ultimately is a local law enforcement matter."

"The FBI is monitoring the situation and offering support to the local law enforcement officials as they try to deal with that,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday afternoon.

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