(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats moved to put limits on the use of federal police after their deployment against protesters in number of cities, while President Donald Trump hailed the forces for combating “anarchists.”
“More federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” Trump said on Monday at the White House when asked about his response to recent unrest. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days. And they really have done a fantastic job in a short period of time.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the Democrat-controlled chamber will act to address federal police behavior in Portland. Oregon Democrats were among those backing a bill to block what one termed “Gestapo-like tactics.” The heads of three key House committees charged the Trump administration with “militarization and misuse of federal law enforcement.”
Senior Democratic lawmakers also called for a probe from the inspectors general of the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department.
The deployment of federal officers has emerged as a new political fault-line amid the social unrest that erupted after the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police less than two months ago.
“The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained -- and, frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, and Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney wrote in a letter urging internal investigations into crackdowns on protesters in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.
In a separate statement Monday, Nadler, Thompson and Adam Smith, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said “our nation is at a crossroads,” and accused the Trump administration of moving to “weaponize federal law enforcement for its own agenda.”
Reports that federal police have been detaining protesters in Portland while not wearing name tags or identifying themselves in other ways -- including arresting and searching individuals without properly reading them their rights -- are a particular concern, according to the Democratic officials.
Portland Arrests, U.S. Tactics Spur Suits by Oregon, Others
Meantime, a group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate unveiled plans for the “Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act.” It would require, among its measures, agency identification by federal officers and restrict their crowd-control activities to the immediate surroundings of federal property, unless requested by both the respective mayor and governor.
Separately, House lawmakers on Monday added a similar requirement for the visible display of agency identification by federal officers as an amendment to a must-pass annual defense policy bill. The legislation is expected to win passage this week, after which it would have to be reconciled with the Senate version of the bill.
Portland’s Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler, said he believes the Trump administration is breaking the law in his city.
“What we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls,” Wheeler said during an interview Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “This is a direct threat to our democracy.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany in turn said that Portland, Oregon is overseen by “a governor who’s unwilling to admit that he’s lost control of his city.”
She said Monday Trump wants to “stand up to the violence” seen in American cities. Trump said the people coming out on the streets “are anarchists. These are not protesters.”
“These are people that hate our country, and we’re not going to let it go forward,” Trump said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted that “if federal law enforcement officials are necessary to do the job and President Trump chooses to go down this path, I completely support him.”
For his part, maverick Republican Senator Rand Paul urged that local law enforcement personnel be left to deal with disturbances. “There is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” he said in a tweet.
(Updates to note take-up of amendment to bill, in 10th paragraph.)
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