Dem offers bill condemning armed protesters in Oregon

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The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee is introducing legislation to condemn the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) plans to roll out the bill when the House convenes for the year Tuesday afternoon.

“This is not a romantic instance of Western self-reliance or an excusable moment of heated rhetoric,” Grijalva said in a statement. 

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“This is armed occupation of public property by people who have threatened deadly force. No one should play the game of publicly wringing their hands at these criminals’ tactics even as they cheer on their ‘message,’ least of all Congress,” he added.

The resolution condemns the “unlawful, armed occupation” of the refuge and calls on the gunmen to “surrender to law enforcement authorities immediately.” It adds that “it is imperative that this unlawful occupation does not escalate into violence.”

The standoff began on Saturday night when a group of armed protesters led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy broke into a facility at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The Bundys are the sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who attracted national attention for a similar dispute in 2014 over refusing to pay grazing fees for his cattle on federal land. 

The occupiers say they are protesting a prison sentence for two landowners, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of arson on nearby federal land. 

The FBI has taken the lead in responding to the standoff. In the meantime, the conflict has prompted a local school district to cancel classes for the week.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRob BishopRepublicans push back on Interior methane leak plan The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP makes new push on wildfire bills MORE (R-Utah) has not signed on to the resolution.

Leading Republican presidential contenders, including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, have denounced the gunmen.

“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds,” Cruz said at a campaign event in Iowa on Monday, according to NBC News.

“But 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 is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”

Rubio, meanwhile, condemned the takeover but expressed sympathy for the underlying protest over the government’s control of federal land.

“I agree 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,” Rubio said in an interview with Iowa radio station KBUR.

Carson also said he has "concerns" about the government's treatment of farmers and ranchers, but maintained "there is nothing that justifies the armed occupation of government buildings."