House gun control sit-in stretches into second day

GOP leaders abruptly adjourned the House a day early Thursday morning as a Democratic sit-in over gun control led to chaos on the floor.

Republicans, the majority in the chamber, lost control of the House for much of Wednesday after Democrats launched the sit-in before noon to demand votes on gun control legislation.

{mosads}The GOP refused to cave to those demands and managed to regain enough control of the floor to approve an emergency funding package to combat the Zika virus after 3 a.m. Thursday.

Democrats then continued their sit-in, which will hit the 24-hour mark at midday Thursday.

While House cameras have been turned off, lawmakers have been able to televise their protest through social media. C-SPAN, which does not control the House cameras, has used feeds from Facebook Live and Periscope to continue showing action on the House floor. 

Democrats have been energized by their protest, and Republicans have expressed frustration and anger.

Rights of the minority party are much weaker in the House than in the Senate. And some Republican lawmakers appeared to be furious at seeing their party lose control of the floor proceedings. 

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) on Wednesday night shouted at his Democratic colleagues, arguing their demands for gun control ignored that the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub earlier this month was inspired by Islamic terror groups. 

“Radical Islam killed these people,” Gohmert railed, pointing to posters displayed by Democrats that showed photos of gun violence victims. 

The Democrats drowned him out with chants of “No bill, no break” as other colleagues filmed the scene. 

Later, Gohmert got into a particularly heated exchange with Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), whose district includes the site of the massacre in Orlando. Other lawmakers had to separate the two. 

“If we give in to it, it will be seen as productive behavior and will happen again. I don’t want to live in a House that runs this way,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

The House will have a pro forma session at 9 a.m. Friday but won’t return for legislative votes until Tuesday, July 5, and will then adjourn again 10 days later until after Labor Day.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) spokeswoman said that the Zika package was the only “must-pass” item before leaving for recess.

“Despite the publicity stunt on the floor, House Republicans were intent on not allowing these tactics to stop us from completing this important business,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. “With that tangible accomplishment, we will be moving on to the previously scheduled district work period.”

What happens next is unclear.

Members of the House Democratic whip team will meet later Thursday morning to discuss the next steps.

Hoyer is presiding over a whip meeting Thursday morning in the Capitol to plan the next move. But lawmakers seem to be moving toward to a strategy of ending the sit-in this week, heading home for the long Fourth of July holiday and returning to the fight — in whatever form it takes — when the House returns to Washington on July 5. 

“We’ve crossed one bridge, we’ve energized the caucus,” Hoyer said. “[And] you can bet your sweet life that when House goes back into session, this fight will be continued.” 

Overnight, while the number of lawmakers taking part in the sit-in thinned, more than two dozen Democrats remained on the floor, including several who wrapped themselves in blankets. Pizza arrived to feed the members who had held the floor for more than half a day.

Democrats fundraised off the protests and appeared to revel in the sense that they had Republicans off balance.

“They will leave town in the middle of the night in a cowardly fashion,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of the GOP’s decision to adjourn.

Ryan’s spokesman said Democrats were fooling themselves.

“Democrats can continue to talk, but the reality is that they have no end-game strategy,” Strong said. “The House is focused on eliminating terrorists, not constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. And no stunts on the floor will change that.”

Democrats are demanding votes on legislation to prevent terror suspects from buying guns and requiring background checks for more gun purchases. The Senate defeated similar proposals earlier this week, though a compromise bill to prevent suspected terrorists from buying firearms could still come up for a vote.

Despite the early adjournment, Ryan is scheduled to hold his weekly press conferences later Thursday morning. 

The House spent most of the day in recess as GOP leaders were forced to abandon originally scheduled plans to consider a financial services spending bill.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who participated in sit-ins of the 1960s, led the protests as an act of civil disobedience.

Lewis, addressing the Democrats on the House floor after most Republicans had left, encouraged the lawmakers to continue the fight in a speech that was part thank you, part pep talk and part sermon.

“We crossed one bridge, but we have other bridges to cross,” said Lewis, who was nearly killed while marching across an Alabama bridge in 1965. “It took us three times to make it from Selma all the way to Montgomery.” 

Republicans didn’t try to interrupt Democrats’ sit-in until a vote at 10 p.m. on an unrelated measure to overturn an Obama administration rule on financial advisers.

Ryan, who was presiding over proceedings, could barely be heard over the Democratic din as they continued their chants and held up sheets of paper bearing the names of gun violence victims.

At one point, Democrats began singing a version of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” with modified lyrics such as “We shall pass a bill someday” and “We shall save the kids someday.”


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