02:01 - Source: CNN
Protester: We'll stay until we secure land

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A standoff in Oregon is one clash over the federal government's role that the Republican presidential field wants no part of

The Oregon group that took control of a rural federal building on Saturday is led by two sons of Cliven Bundy

Washington CNN —  

A standoff in Oregon is one clash over the federal government’s role that the Republican presidential field wants no part of.

An armed group of protesters, including two brothers whose family was involved in a similar clash in 2014, took control Saturday of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge building, a federal facility near Burns, Oregon. They’ve said they won’t leave and want the government to hand over land resources there.

But conservatives who are in many cases sympathetic to their cause criticized their tactics on Monday and Tuesday, as the standoff rippled through the presidential campaign trail.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called them “lawless.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz offered prayers for law enforcement officers. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie expressed sympathy for state officials who have “very difficult choices to make.”

It was a stark difference in tone from Republicans nearly two years after another standoff – featuring members of the same family – in Nevada over access to federal property.

The Oregon group that took control of a rural federal building on Saturday is led by two sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose refusal in 2014 to pay fees for grazing his livestock on federal land made him an icon for opponents of federal control of large swaths of Western territory – including many conservatives.

Current Republican presidential candidates were among his supporters. Donald Trump praised Cliven Bundy’s “spirit, his spunk” on Fox News at the time. Cruz called it a reaction to the “jackboot of authoritarianism.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the group raised a “legitimate constitutional question” about federal overreach, and met with Bundy for 45 minutes.

Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush denounced Bundy, saying his actions in 2014 violated the law.

Other Republicans eventually distanced themselves after Bundy’s racist remarks about “the Negro.”

This time, the condemnation was swift and universal – with no Republican candidates offering any support for the protesters, instead lambasting their threats of violence.

Bush laid into the protesters during a Tuesday evening campaign stop in Dover, New Hampshire.

“I think the federal government is way overreaching as it relates to their power over the land they own. There’s no deference to local and state communities out west,” Bush said.

“But,” he said, “that doesn’t give anybody the right to take over a federal property and have armed militia there. That is totally inappropriate. It defeats the cause of freedom when you have people that are deranged or have a misguided ideological framework that would allow them to reach that conclusion that that was appropriate, to violate federal law. That is not appropriate.”

Cruz offered prayers for law enforcement officers confronting the group and criticized the group for threatening an armed resistance.

“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. But we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others,” Cruz told reporters in Iowa. “And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably – that there will not be a violent confrontation.”

Standoffs and occupations in the U.S. through the years

In New Hampshire on Monday, Christie called for “an appropriate mix of firmness … and care to make sure you don’t unduly put human life at risk” on the part of law enforcement officers.

“Negotiating, being smart about this, but also knowing that in the end, the job of government is to enforce the law and make sure following the law is most important principle to follow,” Christie said.

He said he’s prayed for the law enforcement officers and government officials involved in attempting to end the standoff.

“It’s a very difficult circumstance for the citizens there and for the folks who are participating in that action and you know the governor is going to have some very difficult choices to make,” Christie said.

Rubio blasted the group’s “lawless” tactics on Iowa radio station KBUR.

“You cannot be lawless. 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 added that he is sympathetic to the group’s argument that “there is too much federal control over land, especially out in the Western part of the United States.”

“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,” he said. “We are a nation laws, we should follow those laws and they should be respected.”

The Oregon standoff hasn’t yet rippled through the entire GOP field. Ohio Gov. John Kasich wouldn’t weigh in, telling reporters: “I haven’t heard about it. No, I haven’t heard about that. I’m not familiar with it.”