Democrats Galvanize Gun-Curb Allies With Sit-In Seeking Vote

House Democrats Stage Gun Sit-In
  • Hoyer says protest will continue until votes are scheduled
  • Leaders want votes on barring terror suspects from buying guns

An energized group of House Democrats, who began a spontaneous sit-in on the House floor, pledged Wednesday to continue their protest until Republicans agree to hold votes on two gun-related measures.

Dozens of lawmakers were joined by a parade of Senate Democrats to demand action to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Twitter: Gregory Meeks on Twitter

"It will last as long as it needs," Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, told reporters Wednesday.

In an effort to regain control of the House, Republican leaders are planning an evening vote on a measure to override President Barack Obama’s veto of law that would block the administration’s recently issued fiduciary law, several House lawmakers said Wednesday evening.

"I suspect that we’ll have that vote. It’ll probably be loud and it’ll probably be noisy," said Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican. "I can’t predict what will happen. All I say is you might want to get in the gallery and watch the show."

The move appears to be an attempt to force Democrats to participate in regular House business, because if Democrats abstained, Republicans could get the necessary two-thirds majority of those present and voting to send the override measure to the Senate.

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said he hopes Speaker Paul Ryan "doesn’t give an inch" to the Democratic sit-in to force gun-control votes because doing so would set a precedent for future disruptions of the House.

The protest ground House proceedings to a halt for most of the day, delaying votes on several measures and putting Republicans on the defensive over an issue that has take on added significance in an election year.

Twitter: Rep. John Yarmuth on Twitter

"This is nothing more than a publicity stunt," Ryan said on CNN Wednesday evening. "This is not a way to try to bring up legislation."

Republican leaders kept the C-SPAN cameras off, but Democratic lawmakers broadcast their protest over streaming services. The sit-in itself had strong echoes of the 1960s civil-rights movement and was led by one of that period’s most visible figures, Democratic Representative John Lewis of Georgia.

“Now is the time for us to find a way to dramatize it, to make it real,” Lewis said on the floor while surrounded by fellow lawmakers from his party. “We have to occupy the floor of the House until there’s action."

‘Can’t Hide’

Illinois Representative Bobby Rush noted that there were no Republicans on the floor, participating in the sit-in.

"Speaker Ryan. You can run, but you can’t hide," he said. "Enough is enough."

Twitter: Mike Doyle on Twitter

The hurdles to passing anything remain high. Even Republicans supportive of some of these measures say they have little chance of passing on the House floor. 

"It resonates in my district, but in other districts they see it as the first step towards taking away their guns,” says Representative Peter King of New York. "I would say it has no future."

Senate Negotiations

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, Republican Senator Susan Collins has been negotiating a compromise gun-curb proposal that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said would get a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, after expressing a few reservations about the Collins proposal, said Wednesday that he would vote for it.

John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters Wednesday that he is "optimistic" that he and Collins will be able to work out a deal on a gun measure that would unify the Senate, with a vote either "today or tomorrow."

But House Republican leaders have made no commitment to hold a vote on Democratic gun measures in their chamber. 

“We’re not going to take away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights without due process," Ryan said. The House is scheduled to leave after Friday on a one-week recess ahead of the July 4 holiday.

A group of House Democrats occupied the well of the House floor on Wednesday just before noon and disrupted efforts by Republicans to call the chamber to order. As the sit-in continued throughout the afternoon, a number of Democratic senators joined their House colleagues on the floor, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

"The House cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution, so the House has recessed subject to the call of the chair," said AshLee Strong, a Ryan spokeswoman.

‘No Other Way’

House Democrats said their sit-in was not planned ahead of time, but instead was a more spontaneous event. 

"I would say at least 50 are here," Democratic Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky said in a message from the House floor. "We just decided there was no other way to get action, since we can’t filibuster. Our members are all in on this, and leadership is totally supportive."

The Republicans, he said, "don’t know what to do. It will be interesting."

President Barack Obama tweeted his support of the protest, thanking Lewis for "leading on gun violence where we need it most."

The Democratic sit-in interrupted a planned debate on a spending bill that funds the Treasury Department and other agencies, as well as another vote on a repeal of part of President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who held the Senate floor for nearly 15 hours last week in an effort to demand votes in that chamber on gun curbs, was among the many Democrats who joined the House sit-in. 

"We will not alter the way Congress responds to the mass slaughter of our constituents without ripping up the usual script and demanding change," Murphy said in a statement.

The Senate voted Monday on four gun-related measures, all of which were defeated, but negotiations are ongoing over a compromise proposal.

House Democrats said they are getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of debate in their chamber.

‘Are We Blind?’

"What is the tipping point? Are we blind? Can we see?" Lewis said. "How many more mothers, how many fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something?"

The Democrats said they are also demanding a vote on expanded background checks.

"As the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history has underscored, our country cannot afford to stand by while this Congress continues to be paralyzed by politics," the group wrote in a letter to Ryan. "We urge you to lead the House into action and work with both sides of the aisle to pass commonsense solutions to keep American children and families safe."

At one point, some of the members in chamber began to sing "We Shall Not Be Moved," an African-American spiritual that echoes back to past non-violent demonstrations in the South and elsewhere.

Back in 2008, House Republicans staged a similar sit-in, occupying the House floor to demand a vote on offshore oil drilling.

Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, is an advocate of assault-weapon restrictions and serves on the advisory board of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE