Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley defended peaceful protesters in his state Thursday, saying they are as “American as apple pie,” while blaming President Trump for escalating violence on the streets of Portland.
Other Democratic senators took to the chamber floor to back up Mr. Merkley in demanding federal agents stay on federal property and identify themselves in cities across America where they have conflicted with Black Lives Matter protesters in recent weeks.
Mr. Merkley compared Mr. Trump to an authoritarian dictator, accusing the administration of secret policing and shutting down free speech and the right to assemble.
Mr. Trump, the senator said, “deploys federal forces to create chaos and violence and to attack peaceful protesters.”
“We have a president who embraces this secret police strategy of assaulting peaceful protesters, grabbing people out of the crowd and throwing them into unmarked vans,” Mr. Merkley said.
His comments from the chamber floor came after Mr. Trump launched Operation Legend, named after a 4-year-old who was killed due to gun violence while he slept in his bed.
The administration is sending in federal law enforcement to certain cities where there has been a rise in crime.
Kansas City recently had federal agents make roughly 200 arrests over the course of two weeks. Federal law enforcement officers are also expected to head to Albuquerque and Chicago.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly blasted the crime rate in Chicago, noting that just on Tuesday 23 people were shot in the city.
Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, is not in favor of having federal officers in her city — much like Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who has said the president is making the situation in his city worse.
“Under no circumstances will I allow Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorize our residents,” she posted on Twitter.
In recent weeks, Republicans have defended the president’s use of federal agents in cities like Portland to protect federal buildings such as a courthouse that had been at the center of a violent protest.
Portland residents have voiced concern about not feeling safe in the city anymore during the unrest, as many businesses remain boarded up, according to Oregon’s Fox 12.
Mr. Merkley, meanwhile, has been pushing the GOP-controlled Senate to consider an amendment he drafted to end what he calls “secret policing.”
He said his amendment would require law enforcement to wear identification and not go outside of protecting a federal building without the partnership of a governor or local mayor.
Republicans blocked his attempt to attach the amendment onto the National Defense Authorization Act this week.
“I objected to Senate Democrats once again trying to exploit violence in the streets for political gain. They don’t want solutions, they want to defeat President Trump,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican.
“If they’re looking to debate police reform, they shouldn’t have blocked Senator Tim Scott’s JUSTICE Act,” he added.
The Justice Act, drafted by Mr. Scott, South Carolina Republican, aimed at reducing racism through improved policing, which included better training for officers. The legislation was drafted following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, by a White police officer in Minneapolis over Memorial Day weekend.
But like Mr. Merkley, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, also took to the Senate floor Thursday, blasting the president for planning to send federal agents to his home state.
About 150 federal agents are expected to head to Chicago.
“We will not see in Chicago anything like what we witnessed in the streets of Portland, Oregon,” Mr. Durbin demanded. “What happened in Portland, Oregon, is unacceptable in the United States of America.”
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