Paul criticizes feds on Bundy

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) criticized the federal response to rancher Cliven Bundy, becoming the first GOP 2016 presidential hopeful to weigh in on the issue.

Paul slammed the federal government’s show of force in the dispute, which culminated in a standoff at Bundy’s ranch between police and his supporters, including armed members of militia groups.

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Bundy is refusing to pay grazing fees for his cattle, which for decades have grazed on federal land. Paul sided with Bundy in that fight, arguing that Nevada and local authorities should control the land.

Paul responded directly to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who accused Bundy of violating the law by allowing his cattle to graze without paying fees.

“I think there’s an opposite thing to what Harry Reid said, and that’s the federal government shouldn’t violate the law, nor should we have 48 federal agencies carrying weapons and having SWAT teams,” Paul said Tuesday in a radio interview with WHAS in Louisville, Ky.

Paul said Bundy’s family had leased the land from the county government for generations until the federal government took control of it, and federal officials ought to return the land to local control. The Bureau of Land Management has said the federal government has owned the land since before Nevada was a state.

At the same time, Paul said Bundy and his supporters should settle their dispute in court.

“Can everybody decide what the law is on their own? No, there has to be a legal process,” he said. “But I think there is definitely a philosophic debate over who should own the land.

“I hope it’ll go through a court. But if it were in a court, I would be siding and wanting to say that look, the states and the individuals in the state should own these lands,” he said.

Most GOP lawmakers have steered clear of the fight, which is generating headlines on cable news and energizing groups on the right.