Policy

House Democrats Stage Chamber Floor Sit-In For Gun Vote

Pelosi says protest could last 'All day. We'll be here as long as it takes. Everyday.'

Georgia Rep. John Lewis, left, and Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy talk in the Capitol's Statuary Hall Wednesday before heading to the Democrats' sit-in on the House floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As many as 80 House Democrats staged a sit-in on the chamber floor Wednesday, demanding Republican leaders allow votes on legislation to combat gun violence before heading home for district work.  

The Democrats' move triggered Republicans to call the chamber into recess, but the protest continued into the late afternoon.  

“No bill, no break!” Democrats chanted in the chamber after the House cameras had been flipped off . The cameras, which feed to C-SPAN, are operated by the House recording studio under control of the Republican leadership.  

Camera are typically turned off when the chamber is not in session, Speaker Paul D. Ryan said in an interview with CNN. "This is the way the rules work in the House ever since we've had TV," noting the same situation happened to Republicans years ago with  lights being turned off.  

Ryan later dismissed the protest as a "publicity stunt" and said the House would not consider gun control measures which he consider unconstitutional.  

As he was speaking Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Massachusetts Democrat Seth Molton were working on a bipartisan gun control bill similar to the proposal Sen. Susan Collins has offered in the Senate, Curbelo said.   

[ How Democrats Are Circumventing the GOP-Controlled Cameras ]  

Democrats continued to gather in the chamber as lawmakers took to the podium to name individuals killed by gun violence in their district and to protest the lack of action on gun legislation following the shooting in Orlando, Fla. that left 49 victims dead. Throughout the day, senators crossed the Capitol to join the protest.  

"This is an issue that the American people are asking us to tell them where we stand. That's what a vote will do," said Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., who joined the sit-in after noon.  

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats will remain on the House floor until they get a vote. "All day. We'll be here as long as it takes. Everyday."  

John B. Larson, D-Conn., a leader of the demonstration, reiterated that notion, telling members to schedule flights home on Saturday or Sunday if they’re “serious” about this sit in.  

Democrats Stage House Sit-In For Gun Vote

The White House offered its support, saying Democratic members are "rightly frustrated" that Republican leaders will not give "even consideration" to such bills, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said. Several senators ventured across the Capitol to support the House protest.  

[ Will Gun Votes Bring Politics or Progress? ]  

House Democrats are pushing for a vote on expanded background checks and the so-called No Fly, No Buy bill preventing gun sales to suspected terrorists before the House recess scheduled to start on June 27, said Rep. Mike Thompson, chairman of the gun violence prevention task force.  

As the sit-in began, Reps. Janice Hahn , D-Calif., Elizabeth Esty , D-Conn., Jan Schakowsky , D-Ill., and others sat on the floor and demanded the chamber take action on the issue.  

Others, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro , D-Conn., Joseph P. Kennedy III , D-Mass., and Larson were standing at the front of the chamber and repeating their chants as Democrats took turns speaking on the floor."  

Lawmakers -- in violation of House rules -- captured the action with their cellphones and shared pictures and short vidoes on Twitter, Facebook and Periscope, a live-streaming app. C-SPAN aired many of those videos.  

“Rise up Democrats!” Larson yelled. He added: “Even though the C-SPAN cameras may be turned off, this is about America.”  

“This is a crisis, this is an epidemic,” Larson said.

The effort by House Democrats occurs as the Senate is embroiled in a contentious debate over gun control issues as part of debate on the fiscal 2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill (HR 2578 ). House Democratic efforts come after Sen. Christopher S. Murphy , D-Conn., gained national attention with his nearly 15-hour filibuster last week demanding votes on gun control measures.  

Murphy himself showed up on the House floor in solidarity Wednesday, as did fellow Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Charles E. Schumer of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Gary Peters of Michigan, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mazie K. Hirona of Hawaii, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Dick Durbin of Illinois.  

"We have a filibuster in the Senate but they don't have anything quite like it in the House," Durbin said on his way to the House. "I've been through this before during the Gingrich era where we stayed on the floor after it was recess, had adjourned, trying to call attention to injustices."   

Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, stopped by shortly before 4 p.m.  

"I like to go to the House once in a while," he said as he walked through Statuary Hall on his way back to the Senate. "I served in the House. It's good for me to go back once in a while. Remember my roots."  

Asked if he had a message for the House Democrats he said, "No they're doing just fine. They don't need my help."   

[ More Democratic Ballyhoo Over Guns on House Floor ]  

A few Republicans -- including Rep. David Jolly of Florida, Tom Rice and Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Joe L. Barton of Texas -- stopped by to watch a procession of Democrats speak on the floor.  

Florida Republican Rep. David Jolly said he went to the House floor during the Democrats sit-in to see if they would be willing to negotiate on due process protections as they push for a vote on no fly, no buy.   

He said he had two conversations that led him to believe a serious bipartisan agreement could be reached but declined to detail those conversations.  

Jolly has a bill that would institute no fly, no buy with the ability for someone who's denied a gun purchase to get a due process hearing before a federal judge within 30 days but he's open to other ideas.   

The protest began around 11:30 a.m. when Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., began speaking about the need for the House to take action.  

"We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent people to gun violence...," Lewis said as he began a floor speech. "What has this body done? Mr. Speaker, not one thing."  

The House quickly recessed as lawmakers began their protest but lawmakers continue to speak in the chamber, and the cameras were shut off.  

At about noon, Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas returned to gavel in the House. Democrats listened to the prayer and recited the pledge of allegiance defiantly, then began chanting "No Bill, No Break."  

Poe said he found that the House was not in a state of order due to the presence of members in the well who were not recognized. He asked members to leave the well. After that, he declared the House in recess subject to the call of the chair.  

Hoyer joined the sit-in and praised Lewis, who stood with Martin Luther King in the Selma protests more than 50 years ago.  

"We believe this is an issue, as John Lewis said so impressively and powerfully, John Lewis walked across a bridge knowing full well that he would face perhaps death but certainly serous injury," Hoyer said. "And all we ask for is the right for a vote."  

Pelosi told Democrats sitting in on House floor that some Republicans were preventing constituents from entering the gallery to observe the sit-in, which led the chamber to erupt in yells of "Shame! Shame!"  

After the minority leader left for a news conference on the Capitol steps, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was spotted on the House floor, talking to Hoyer.  

“He asked me what will it take to move on with the other business we have before us?” Hoyer recalled later.  

Hoyer said he told McCarthy the same thing Democrats have been saying publicly: They want a vote on legislation to expand background checks and to ban people on the no-fly list from buying guns.  

The group is demanding that the House remain in session over the scheduled recess in order to continue the ongoing debate and bring to a vote issues related to gun violence .  

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., offered an amendment barring suspected terrorists from buying handguns as an amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill being marked up Wednesday.  

A similar amendment was rejected in the Senate on Monday, prompting senators to begin working on a more limited measure , which would restrict purchases for those on two of the smaller watch lists.  

On the House floor, members read off names of those lost to gun violence, often reading the name and then the age of the victim.  

Several members of the Connecticut delegation were in attendance—including Rep. Jim Himes, who led a walk out during the moment of silence for Orlando's victims last week and Reps. Joe Courtney and John Larson, who joined him.  

New York Rep. Joe Crowley, South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn and Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly, who have been outspoken on gun issues and participated in the uproar last week following the moment of silence were also present.  

California Rep. Scott Peters, who has been reading names of gun victims on the House floor for months, also participated.  

Unlike the Senate filibuster last week, the House protest was not televised because the House Gallery shuts off the cameras when the House is in recess.  

[ Why You Can't See the House Sit-In on C-Span ]  

"They can cut off all the TV that they want but they can't stop us from standing in this well and doing what we know is the right thing to do on behalf of the American people," Connecticut Rep. John Larson said.  

"Let's get Peter King down here, let's get those Republicans who have signed on to support bi-partisan legislation because they know it's the right thing to do," Larson said.  

At about 4 p.m., Lowey, the House Appropriations Committee's top Democrat, directed her remarks on the House chamber squarely at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and demanded action on "no fly no buy" legislation that would prevent firearm sales to individuals on federal terrorism watch lists.  

"Speaker Ryan, listen to your heart, listen to your wife, listen to your children, Speaker Ryan," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.  

She criticized Republicans on the appropriations committee for rejecting an amendment that would ban gun sales to those on the government's no-fly list that she proposed during a full committee markup of the fiscal 2017 Homeland Security appropriations bill earlier Wednesday.  

"Speaker Ryan, do the right thing. Bring this bill to the floor. If you are on a terrorist watch list, you should not be able to have a gun," she said to cheers in the raucous House chamber.  

   

Lindsey McPherson, John Bennett and Bridget Bowman contributed. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.