The Democrats’ surrender in Portland, coming so precipitously after the appearance by Attorney General Barr before the Judiciary Committee in the House, looks like a favorable development, insofar as it goes. It may be too soon for victory to be declared by America’s government and other allies of moderation, law, and order. We’d like to think, though, that the capitulation in Portland suggests that principle can prevail.
The deal was struck Wednesday, the day after Mr. Barr laid down the law before the House Judiciary Committee: “Since when is it okay to try and burn down a federal court,” Mr. Barr now famously said. Five days earlier, a United States district judge had tossed out a lawsuit filed by the Oregon’s state attorney general seeking an order to curb the actions of federal officers. The judge said Oregon lacked standing.
So it was probably inevitable that Oregon would have to retreat, even if, as Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, behind the scenes talks between Oregon and America were already underway. Oregon had started them, and Ms. Brown eventually reached out to Vice President Pence, who had himself been a governor and with whom a working relationship was struck. OPB suggests it was a both-sides-won agreement.
In explaining the deal on Wednesday, though, Governor Brown, in an interview with NPR, tried to portray the deal as a victory for Oregon. NPR’s Ari Shapiro started by asking about the statement of the acting United States Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, to the effect that the withdrawal was contingent on his being confident federal properties won't be under attack.
Ms. Brown insisted that “the plan” is “very, very clear.” As of July 30, Customs, Border Patrol, and immigrationa agents — she called them “Trump’s troops” — “will be out of downtown Portland.” Then she acknowledged that it’s “certainly a phased withdrawal.” So Mr. Shapiro asked about how it’s now “the responsibility of Oregon state police to protect the federal courthouse.”
“Our Oregon state police,” Ms. Brown allowed, “will be focused on protecting Oregonians who are speaking freely. We want to make sure that free speech rights are protected here in Portland and, frankly, all across the state of Oregon.” So NPR’s interviewer asked: “You didn't mention protecting property. So if somebody wants to graffiti the federal courthouse or smash a window, are they going to intervene?”
“Yes,” the governor acknowledged, “we’ve been very clear that Oregon state police will protect the federal courthouse.” That certainly sounds like a capitulation to us. Youtube has an exegesis by commentator Tim Pool. “It sounds like the Feds are getting everything they’ve asked for — in exchange for nothing,” is the way Mr. Pool puts it.
We understand this showdown might not be over. Oregon, for one thing, could still default. Yet it strikes us that what changed in recent days is that the Democrats glimpsed the possibility that their strategy is not playing well politically. It’s one thing for them to defend peaceful protesters (we all do). It’s another to defend the kind of violence against American officers we’ve been seeing during nights in Portland.