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Oregon Governor On Federal Agents Leaving Portland

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The federal government has reached a deal with the state of Oregon. Federal agents will begin withdrawing from Portland tomorrow after weeks of clashes with protesters. In exchange, Oregon state police will guard the federal courthouse that has been the center of these demonstrations. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced this deal today, and she joins us now.

Welcome.

KATE BROWN: Thank you so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let me begin by asking you how solid this agreement is. The acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf says this withdrawal will only happen if he's confident that federal properties won't be under attack. And President Trump says if Portland leaders don't secure the city, federal forces will remain involved. So how much of a commitment do you actually have?

BROWN: Look; the plan is very, very clear. As of tomorrow, Customs, Border Patrol and ICE will be out of downtown Portland. It's certainly a phased withdrawal. And Trump's troops are leaving the city. That's a good thing.

SHAPIRO: In exchange, it is now the responsibility of Oregon state police to protect the federal courthouse. Tell us what that means to you. How do you see the role of state officers differing from the role that federal officers have been playing?

BROWN: I think that's a really good question. Our Oregon state police 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. Our state police officers are local community members. They are Oregonians, and they very importantly are accountable, and they will be held to Oregon law. I've directed OSP to use each and every strategy to de-escalate and avoid confrontation with protesters.

SHAPIRO: You referenced protecting Oregonians and protecting free speech rights. You didn't mention protecting property. So if somebody wants to graffiti the federal courthouse or smash a window, are they going to intervene?

BROWN: Yes. We've been very clear that Oregon state police will protect the federal courthouse. The federal courthouse is critically important to Oregonians. It is a tribute to Sen. Mark Hatfield, who was - he stood for peace, and he stood for justice. We must do that as well.

SHAPIRO: You said you're encouraging de-escalation. As you know, Portland police as well as federal agents have been criticized for their use of tear gas and less-than-lethal weapons against protesters. So what guidance are you giving Oregon state police on their use of weapons to control crowds?

BROWN: I have directed the superintendent to use every technique that he has to de-escalate and avoid confrontation. They are required to follow Oregon laws, and they will use crowd control tactics only as a last resort. The goal here is to de-escalate, to calm things down. I was really clear in my conversations with the Trump administration. I told them that Trump's troops needed to leave. As many Americans saw, any TV station across the United States, the federal officers here in the city brought violence, and they brought strife to our community. That needed to end. We have a plan to ensure that it ends.

SHAPIRO: Do you think this agreement with the federal government could have been reached sooner? Why did it take this long?

BROWN: I think one of the challenges is that the administration sent in the troops to score points with their political base. It's really clear that this political strategy has backfired. And they are leaving. That's a good thing. That will enable us - those of us in Oregon committed to tackling racial justice issues - to focus on that work.

SHAPIRO: The president seems committed to using federal agents in cities. And so what do you say to another governor who a week from now might find themselves in the position that you have been in over the last several weeks?

BROWN: Look; I hope this doesn't happen in any other city across the country. This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. I can't believe I have to say that to the president of the United States in this day and age. It is very, very clear that the presence of federal officers here added, simply, gasoline to an already challenging situation. It added gasoline to the fire. There is absolutely no question that the violence needs to end. I know that there are outliers in Oregon, in the Portland area, burning garbage cans, throwing rocks. That needs to end. And we know that violence and vandalism solves nothing. It achieves nothing. It accomplishes nothing. We all need to work together and center our work around the lives and voices of Black and brown and Indigenous people in the state and, frankly, in this country.

SHAPIRO: You're saying the presence of federal officials is unhelpful and destructive. But if the federal government does decide to send them to another American city, are there tools in a governor's toolkit that you would recommend someone use, or are they pretty much at the mercy of the federal government?

BROWN: (Laughter) There are a lot of tools, but honestly, it took a lot of conversation. It took a coordinated effort with our federal delegation and, frankly, our local elected officials. It took all of us working together to get the Trump administration to agree to withdraw their troops from the city of Portland.

SHAPIRO: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, thank you for joining us today.

BROWN: Thank you, Ari. Be safe out there, please. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.