Democrats have been lambasting President Trump for sending in officers to protect federal buildings in Portland, but Republicans are increasingly asking where Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Mayor Ted Wheeler are.
As the city braced for another night of violent protests, Oregon Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod cheered the arrival of federal law enforcement and said the governor should have handled the chaos herself.
“We have a governor that hasn’t lifted one finger to try to contain any of this, and today is its 56th day,” Mr. Girod said Wednesday on Fox News.
He said he was thankful for the federal officers.
“We should be able to fix this problem ourselves, but we have a governor that sides with the rioters,” Mr. Girod said. “Hence the need for federal protection.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf said Tuesday that he asked the governor and mayor a week and a half ago what they needed to stop the attacks on the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse and other buildings but his offer of assistance was declined.
“I asked the mayor, I asked the governor: How long do you intend to have this continue? Is it 82 nights, is it 92 nights? Again, no response,” Mr. Wolf said.
Ms. Brown, a Democrat, said in a Tuesday interview with MSNBC that when Mr. Wolf called, “I told them to go home, that their forces are not needed here, they are not wanted here and they’re making a challenging situation worse.”
She said Oregon’s approach to the conflict was to “solve problems by sitting down.”
“We solve problems by de-escalating a situation and engaging in dialogue,” the governor said. “I know that’s what the mayor’s doing, I know that folks throughout the city are having those conversations about how we can bring the violence to an end.”
Mr. Wolf said he will remove the Homeland Security Department’s law enforcement teams guarding the courthouse once the late-night agitators stop breaking windows, vandalizing and starting fires.
“We stand ready. I’m ready to pull my officers out of there if the violence stops,” he said.
Portland has become the nation’s protest hot spot as hundreds, sometimes thousands, of demonstrators descend each night on the Justice Center area. The scene typically starts as a peaceful protest and descends into anarchy after about 11 p.m., federal officials say.
Oregon Democrats have insisted that the agitators represent a small minority of the protesters. They tried to downplay the turmoil despite nightly videos showing masked rioters, some apparently affiliated with Antifa, trying to break into the courthouse by tearing down the plywood covering.
“We’re not instigating. We’re responding. They’re instigating,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday on Fox News. “They’re castigating our law enforcement. They are instigating these crimes.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who represents Portland, announced in a House floor speech Tuesday that “Portland, Oregon, is not out of control.
“To be sure, there are some people who have strong feelings and there are some that have done things that are inappropriate and unlawful,” Mr. Blumenauer said. “But that is the challenge of our local officials and our state officials to manage it, not having somebody unwelcome, uninvited and unprepared coming in and take this difficult situation and make it worse.”
To those on the outside, it may look like state and local officials are neglecting their duty, but Mr. Wheeler insisted that “de-escalation strategies” were working until Homeland Security officers arrived.
The city banned the Portland Police Bureau last month from using tear gas unless “life safety” is threatened, but federal agents have used tear gas as well as flash bangs and pepper balls to disperse crowds attacking the federal building.
“It’s well-documented that before they got here, the energy was really going out of the late-night protests. We were seeing smaller crowds, we were seeing less vandalism, we were seeing much less violence, and all of us expected that it was going to go away,” said Mr. Wheeler, who also serves as the city’s police commissioner.
Instead, he said, “these guys came in like a bulldozer, and what it did was it reenergized Portlanders. It brought people back into the streets.”
Mr. Wolf said the federal officers were needed to prevent the agitators from burning down the courthouse, given that local police stood by while the building was attacked.
“Attacking federal police officers, law enforcement officers, which they have done 52 nights in a row, is a federal crime,” said Mr. Wolf. “And so the department, because we don’t have that local support, that local law enforcement support, we are having to go out and proactively arrest individuals, and we need to do that because we need to hold them accountable.”
While Democrats accuse the Trump administration of sending in “storm troopers” and the “Gestapo,” conservative commentators argue that Portland’s liberal leaders “haven’t been doing the job.”
“They haven’t been getting the job done,” said Guy Benson, a conservative radio host and Townhall political editor. “This is now almost two months of violent upheaval every single night in that city. They’re derelict, and their crocodile tears about the feds seems like an attempt to deflect blame and deflect attention away from their own failures.”
James Buchal, chairman of the Multnomah County Republican Party, said in an email that the party supported the president’s actions, “which were necessitated by the failure of local authorities to maintain law and order, in violation of state law.”
He accused Democrats of harboring a political agenda. Their “entire strategy appears calculated, if not intended, to exacerbate the violence,” he said.
Ms. Brown accused the Trump administration of playing politics.
“Unfortunately, President Trump and his administration are more interested in distracting from their failure to lead and ensuring that cities and situations like this escalate,” said Ms. Brown. “This is about political points. It’s about political theater.”
Portland has been a hotbed of Antifa and left-wing protest activity for years. Elected leaders have long taken a hands-off approach to the unrest, which has included a 28-day occupation of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility.
“If radicals feel emboldened, that’s because Portland has long allowed political violence to occur with impunity,” The Wall Street Journal said in a Tuesday staff editorial. “In recent years, dueling marches by Antifa and far-right activists have descended into brawling, and too often police have done little to stop it.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, introduced legislation Wednesday to hold state and local officials liable for property damage, bodily injury and deaths while they “abdicate” their duties to bring rioters and occupiers under control.
He cited the response by Portland and Seattle elected leaders to recent unrest. In Seattle, Black Lives Matter protesters took over a six-block area of the downtown for three weeks. Two people were fatally shot within the “autonomous zone.”
“Democrat city officials have allowed this violent mob rule, and they need to be held accountable for the lives lost and the millions of dollars in damages that have been incurred by lawless autonomous zone anarchists,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement. “We need leaders to stand with the men and women in law enforcement and defend America.”