Floor Action

House passes rules aimed at preventing lawmaker protests

House Republicans adopted new rules on Tuesday to slap hefty fines on lawmakers who take photos or video on the chamber floor, a move meant to deter Democrats from staging a protest similar to last year's anti-gun-violence sit-in.

The new rules enforce a previously existing prohibition on taking pictures or video on the House floor. Lawmakers of both parties routinely ignored the rules over the years and snapped photos at big events such as the State of the Union address and speeches from foreign leaders.

Members didn't try to hide the violations and frequently even posted the photos on social media. Yet they never faced consequences for breaking the photography rules.

The House voted along party lines, 234-193, to approve a rules package for the new Congress that includes the provisions. Only three Republicans joined every Democrat in voting against the package.

Multiple Democrats mocked the rules change on Tuesday by taking photos and videos on the House floor before it went into effect.

"Exercising freedom of expression on House flr before draconian GOP rules change goes into effect," Rep. Jared Huffman (Calif.) tweeted alongside a photo of himself with fellow Democratic Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.) and John Lewis (Ga.), a Civil Rights icon who helped lead the June protest:

But now, any lawmaker who tries taking a picture on the House floor will face a $500 fine, and $2,500 for subsequent offenses. The cost of the fines would be deducted from members' salaries.

Republicans added an amendment Monday night by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) that would allow members to appeal the fines.

GOP leaders pushed an enforcement mechanism for breaking the rules on photography and video as a warning to any Democrats who might be considering another sit-in.

The minority party commandeered the House floor in June in the aftermath of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., to call for action on gun control legislation. House GOP leaders were powerless to stop the demonstration as Democrats sat in the aisles and engaged in what felt like a pep rally for nearly 26 hours.

GOP leaders ordered the chamber into recess, thereby cutting the C-SPAN camera feeds for public viewing. But several Democrats sidestepped the problem by live-streaming the proceedings from their phones.

House Republicans warned that Democrats had set a dangerous precedent.

"If the shoe were on the other foot, I'd still be on this foot and this shoe," said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

The new rules adopted Tuesday also explicitly prohibit "disorderly or disruptive conduct," which includes "intentionally obstructing or impeding the passage of others in the chamber," attempts to "impede, disrupt or disturb the proceedings of the House" and denying other lawmakers the ability to engage in legislative proceedings.

Members who violate those rules would be referred to the House Ethics Committee for review.

House Republicans tried to insert a provision into the rules package Monday night that would have gutted the chamber's independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).

But Republicans agreed unanimously to remove the measure less than 24 hours later, following public outcry. GOP lawmakers cited an onslaught of negative media coverage and reactions from constituents as the main reasons for their reversal.

The House established the OCE in 2008 in response to a string of ethics scandals from GOP lawmakers, three of whom went to jail for their crimes. Creation of the OCE and other ethics reforms were ushered in by House Democrats led by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) pledging to "drain the swamp."

President-elect Donald Trump has recently adopted that catchphrase to call for reforming Washington culture. He questioned the timing of the OCE changes late Tuesday morning in a series of tweets, though he didn't take issue with the substance of the proposal.

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