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GOP Scrambles to Condemn Rancher's Remarks on Race

Bundy: "I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves"
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Offering words of encouragement for a rancher leading an armed standoff against federal rangers turns out to be not so great of a political move – especially when the rancher in question muses publicly about the benefits of slavery.

Republicans – including possible 2016 candidate Rand Paul -- are scrambling to distance themselves from defiant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy after he made startling comments about slavery and African-Americans in a New York Times article published Wednesday night.

From the Times’ Adam Nagourney:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Bundy had previously drawn support from some GOP lawmakers for his clash with the Bureau of Land Management.

After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Bundy and his allies “domestic violent terrorist wannabes,” fellow Sen. Dean Heller countered last week that they are “patriots.” Paul urged Reid to “calm the rhetoric” and criticized the federal government for what he described as an intimidating presence during the standoff. “The federal government shouldn’t violate the law, nor should we have 48 federal agencies carrying weapons and having SWAT teams,” he told a Kentucky radio station.

In statements after Bundy’s remarks, both Paul and Heller condemned his comments.

"His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” said Paul.

And a spokesman for Heller told the Times that the senator “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

For his part, Reid slammed Bundy as a "hateful racist" and a "dangerous individual" who must be renounced by all Republicans who once embraced his cause.

"It is the height of irresponsibility for any individual or entity in a position of power or influence to glorify or romanticize such a dangerous individual, and anyone who has done so should come to their senses and immediately condemn Bundy," he said. "For their part, national Republican leaders could help show a united front against this kind of hateful, dangerous extremism by publicly condemning Bundy."

NBC's Kasie Hunt contributed.