U.S. Sen. Dean Heller on Friday called for congressional hearings into how the Bureau of Land Management handled the roundup of cattle around Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch, which turned into an armed stand off between the BLM and militia groups and launched a new debate about the federal government’s 85 percent ownership of Nevada land.
“I want to find out who’s accountable for this,” said the Nevada Republican on a Las Vegas political talk show, where Heller appeared for the first time on live television with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Heller said he hoped he and Reid could agree on holding hearings, but the Senate majority leader didn’t respond to the suggestion, making it unclear if Democrats who control the Senate would agree to such a public examination.
Heller’s staff said he would push for hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which the Nevada senator sits on, when he gets back to Washington, D.C., after the Easter break.
Heller said he wanted to look into why the BLM needed “200 armed men,” including some reportedly with sniper rifles, to monitor the roundup, which was cut short on April 12 by the BLM to avoid open violence.
Nevada’s two senators were questioned on KSNV-TV, Channel 3’s “What’s Your Point?” by hosts Jeff Gillan and Amy Tarkanian, whose husband, Danny, lost the GOP primary in 2010 in the contest for Reid’s Senate seat. The show lasted about 30 minutes and covered a range of topics, from Bundy to extending unemployment benefits.
The day before the TV appearance, Reid called supporters of Bundy “domestic terrorists” because they defended him against the BLM cattle roundup with guns and put their children in harm’s way.
“Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists,” Reid said during an appearance at a Las Vegas Review-Journal “Hashtags & Headlines” event at the Paris.
On the Friday show, Reid defended his characterization of the supporters, repeating that some had carried assault weapons and automatic weapons and put women and children in the line of fire. No shots were fired.
“If there were ever an example of people who were domestic violent terrorist wannabes, these are the guys,” Reid said.
Heller objected, saying he didn’t agree and that most were regular folks, including grandmothers, veterans and Boy Scouts.
“I have a very different view,” Heller said, sitting next to Reid. “… What Senator Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots.”
Reid countered: “If they’re patriots, we’re in very big trouble.”
Heller said he wondered why the BLM sent an army of armed men to take back Bundy’s cattle.
“There was no army,” Reid muttered, although neither man raised his voice during the tense exchange.
Last week, Heller and GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval both criticized BLM tactics, which included tasing one of Bundy’s sons and having him arrested. At the same time, both Sandoval and Heller defended the federal government’s right to enforce court orders to round up the cattle and they called for the situation to end without violence.
Bundy, who said his family homesteaded the land in the 1870s and has a right to use it, has not paid federal grazing fees for 20 years and owes about $1 million to the government.
Heller and Reid disagreed about what’s at the heart of the Bundy dispute: control of federal public lands.
“It’s federal land, take it or leave it,” Reid said, while noting some counties had been able to take back some U.S. lands.
Heller said cattlemen “have lost over half of the range land they’re able to run on in the last 30 years.”
Reid blamed the loss of grazing land to global warming, however. Heller disagreed and said the situation could grow worse if the federal government decides to list the sage grouse as an endangered species.
“Wait until the sage grouse comes,” Heller said, predicting more public lands versus environment battles to come.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.