Logjam Continues at Oregon Capitol, But Militia Threat Fails to Materialize

Senate Republicans have refused to provide Democrats a quorum since Thursday, and have been hiding out of state.

The Oregon Legislature remained at an uneasy standstill Sunday with Republicans blocking a carbon cap-and-trade bill, even as national observers sensationalized the impasse.

Senate Republicans have refused to provide Democrats a quorum since Thursday, and have been hiding out of state to keep Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, from retrieving them.

Republicans seek to halt the passage of House Bill 2020, which would place a cap on carbon emissions.

Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) cancelled a floor session Saturday after the Oregon State Police received a threat of right-wing militia actions at the Capitol. (An OSP captain confirmed the threat to Oregon Public Broadcasting on Friday night.) Those anti-government groups may have been emboldened by a Republican senator threatening to shoot and kill state troopers sent to fetch him.

Small protests were held outside the Capitol both Saturday and Sunday. But none of the protesters openly carried weapons, and Sunday's floor session proceeded without incident.

Senate Majority Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr. (R-Grants Pass) suggested in a Sunday statement that the Democrats' real concern wasn't militia groups, but a confrontation with conservative voters.

"The peaceful rallies on the steps this weekend were done by Oregonians who will be directly impacted by the gas and emissions tax or House Bill 2020," Baertschiger said. "Democrats were reactionary to rumors and lacked the courage to face these Oregonians by closing the Capitol building on Saturday."

On Saturday, Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) engaged in a terse exchange with the official Oregon Republican Party account on Twitter.

"Ds were notified we were physically in danger," she wrote. "I'll keep showing up to do what voters sent me to do. Rs have obligation to reject violent threats. I want all colleagues & staff to be safe, regardless of how they vote."

The Oregon GOP Twitter account continued to disparage safety concerns on Sunday. It mocked the idea of a militia threat, broadcasting a photograph of a loggers' protest from earlier in the week with the satirical caption: "Heavily armed militia lays siege to Oregon's Capitol as Senate Democrats cower in fear."

The tweet was widely misinterpreted and spread nationally, including by Democratic Party luminaries Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Most of the people responding to the tweet appeared to believe it was deriding peaceful protest or endorsing a violent shutdown of the statehouse.

In reality, the conservative protests at the Capitol were small. Sunday's demonstrators flew a flag from a logger's chainsaw. The day before, a protester walked a horse up the Capitol steps. Spooked, it refused to walk back down, and left a large deposit of manure on the marble.

At issue is a bill that would place a cap on greenhouse gas emissions for the state's biggest polluters and require businesses emitting over 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases to buy allowances for each additional ton of emissions. The bill is loathed by some businesses, especially timber companies.

Related: Dutch Bros. Coffee pulls its support for Oregon climate cap.

Courtney called the roll Sunday in the Senate chambers but was again two short of a quorum. "Would you please come to the floor so we can conduct business of the Oregon State Senate," he asked rhetorically. "We can address our budgets, address our public policies that is our duty to do as state senators."

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