Democrat Delays Biden Border Pick on Portland Protest Concerns

  • More than 330 border patrol officials sent to Portland unrest
  • Biden officials haven’t addressed concerns, senator says

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is delaying a hearing on the nominee to lead U.S. Customs and Border Protection, citing questions about the agency’s response to protests last year in his home state.

The Homeland Security and Justice departments haven’t addressed Wyden’s concerns about “how the Trump administration misused federal resources” by sending Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement to respond to unrest in Portland, the senator said in a statement Thursday.

President Joe Biden nominated Chris Magnus to lead CBP in April, but the Tucson, Ariz., police chief has yet to get a hearing. Wyden leads the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over CBP nominees.

“While it is clear that Customs and Border Protection faces pressing issues, as the senior senator from Oregon, I am unable to advance this nominee until DHS and DOJ give Oregonians some straight answers about what they were up to in Portland last year, and who was responsible,” Wyden said.

Wyden’s delay compounds challenges the Biden administration already faced in putting top homeland security officials to work. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is using a procedural move to slow the confirmation process for all DHS nominees, saying he needs clarity on the agency’s border security and immigration enforcement policies.

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has communicated with Wyden and looks forward to working with him to schedule a confirmation hearing as soon as possible, a DHS spokesperson said. Mayorkas also directed a department-wide review to ensure law enforcement are appropriately trained and following the law.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Protesters gather in front of Portland’s federal courthouse July 28, 2020 as the building becomes a focus of clashes between city police and federal officers called in by the Trump administration. The demonstrations began after George Floyd and other Black Americans were killed by law enforcement.

More than 330 Border Patrol agents and 70 other CBP officials descended on Portland last year as unrest swept the city’s downtown area in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minnesota.

DHS said it deployed officers from CBP and other agencies to help the Federal Protective Service guard the federal courthouse and other facilities in Portland, a move that drew criticism from Democrats and protesters who said the DHS officers escalated tension and violence on the ground.

The agency’s inspector general in April said DHS had authority to deploy to Portland but failed to properly train all officers or ensure consistent uniforms and “operational tactics.”

Magnus is one of several DHS nominees awaiting confirmation. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is set to vote next week on Ed Gonzalez, the nominee to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Nominees for a DHS under secretary position, general counsel, and director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are awaiting floor votes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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