But when he called the hearing to order, 11 protesters from DC Vote, including Zherka and D.C. shadow Sen. Michael Brown, rose to their feet. They placed red gags in their mouths to, as Zherka put it, “symbolize the city’s plight” and protest Republicans’ attempts to “silence the District.”
About a dozen Capitol Police officers responded, and the protesters were removed from the hearing room one by one. No arrests were made or citations issued, though police took down the demonstrators’ names.
Zherka told Roll Call in December that the Republican takeover of the House will warrant “radicalization of the movement,” and this protest is the first step.
The group had little to picket in the 110th and 111th Congresses.
Democratic leaders removed riders from the bills governing the District’s budget in the House and Senate Appropriations committees. During Republican rule of both chambers, those attachments restricted the D.C. government from funding abortions, medical marijuana and needle exchange programs.
Last Congress, the Senate passed a bill that would have given Norton full voting privileges, but a controversial gun amendment prevented Democratic leaders from bringing it to a vote on the floor.
This year Republicans removed Norton’s vote in the Committee of the Whole and are now bringing up the abortion bill, so the protesters say it’s time to speak up. Norton said she doubts this bill would pass the Senate or gain the president’s signature, but that “it does a lot of good” to protest.
“We can’t let the Senate and the president think this doesn’t matter to us,” she said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.