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House Dems to GOP on gun reprimands: 'Bring it on'

House Dems to GOP on gun reprimands: 'Bring it on'
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House Democrats have a simple message for the GOP leaders threatening to reprimand participants in last June's marathon gun-violence sit-in: Be our guest. 

The Democrats say they not only have the policy advantage, as polls show overwhelming support for the gun reforms they're pushing. But they also feel they hold a political wildcard in the form of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a Black Caucus member and civil rights hero who led the day-long floor protest.

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“If they want to come in and say that we're going to punish you for having a demonstration for gun violence prevention –– led by an all-American icon, John Lewis –– bring it on,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday.

Lewis is an historic figure, having been beaten nearly to death by police during a 1965 rights march in Selma, Ala., that paved the way for passage of the Voting Rights Act. He's widely considered Capitol Hill's moral compass –– one essentially beyond reproach –– when it comes to issues of human rights and civil disobedience. And his Democratic allies are openly daring the Republicans to punish the protest amid a volatile election season in which GOP leaders are scrambling to appeal to the same minority voters their presidential nominee, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE, has driven away.

The Democrats' message is clear and gaining volume: “By going after any of us, you're going after John Lewis,” Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said this week.  

“And if John Lewis is going to be attacked in terms of a focus of this, I'm John Lewis. … We're all John Lewis,” Crowley added. “And that's what the Republicans need to understand.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said it's “stunning” that the Republicans would “question [Lewis's] motives” considering how well history has judged his record of non-violent protest. He predicted a sanctions resolution will come back to haunt the Republicans politically.

“This is a guy who has been arrested many times over the years, has been beaten, has had his life threatened because he's fought for civil rights. He's been on the right side of history,” McGovern said. “When I read that news article that they're going to do this, I was, like, I don't know who the hell's advising them, but it's bad advice.”

Launched June 22, the Democrats' floor sit-in was designed to highlight the refusal of GOP leaders to consider any gun reform legislation following the June 12 shooting massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed by a lone gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State. Aside from Lewis, the organizers included Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and John Larson (D-Conn.).

The Democrats had hoped to force votes on a pair of bills: one to bar the sale of firearms to those on the FBI's terrorist watch lists; the other to expand background checks on prospective gun buyers. Both reforms have overwhelming public support, according to numerous national polls, and the Democrats maintain both would sail through the House if Republicans would give them a vote.

Republican leaders didn't budge –– no gun votes were called, then or since –– but almost three months later they're vowing to act soon on a resolution to sanction the protestors for breaching House rules and violating standards of decorum.

“There are numerous rules that were broken. That's not the way a democracy works and I think you will see appropriate measure taken in the very near future,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House majority leader, told reporters Tuesday. “Are you going to let the House stand with that behavior going forward? I think it would create real damage to the reputation of the House in the long term.”

Republican leaders haven't said what form the punishment will take or when the resolution will appear, feeding the sense that while they are being pressured from conservatives to maintain a tough-fisted approach to House rules, they are also less than enthusiastic about the optics of formally condemning a Lewis-led protest.

“There are some sensible members, who happen to be Republicans, who I'm sure are telling their leadership, 'You know, what are you doing?’” McGovern said.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce Now we know why Biden was afraid of a joint presser with Putin MORE (R-Wis.) said a resolution is needed to “protect” the House "so democracy can work … [and] the Republic can function.” But he's dropped no clues about substance or timing.  

“You'll see what we have when we have it,” Ryan said enigmatically Wednesday. “We’ll announce it when we have it ready.”

Ryan's office said Friday that there's been no update since Wednesday.

“No decisions have been made,” a spokesperson said. 

Pelosi is anticipating a two-pronged strategy from the Republicans, the first of which she's expecting next week.

“I've heard two things: that they're going to do something … now to punish [us], and then try to change the rules for the next Congress,” Pelosi said Thursday. “The only Congress that can change the rules for the next Congress is the next Congress. So I think they're just feeding the beast with that kind of conversation.

“I don't think they should do it at all,” she added. “But if they do, we would welcome that.”

Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats shift tone on unemployment benefits The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks MORE (D-Ky.) named another reason the Democrats are favorable to being punished: The sanctions resolution will put gun reform back in the headlines after the topic had faded from public view over the long August recess.

“[Lewis] is a symbol of the importance of civil disobedience and I think it would be a mistake for them to do anything,” Yarmuth said. “But I think it would revive the issue, which would be good for those of us who were involved in the sit-in.”

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), another member of the Black Caucus, is also welcoming the Republicans' reprimand, saying it will “expose” GOP leaders as “out of touch … with the American public” on an issue that polls well in the Democrats' favor.

“Apparently one of the brilliant people in their group thinks that this is a good way to score points with their base. And so if that's how they feel, there is nothing that we can do about it, since they are the majority,” Clay said. 

“But my take on it is similar to Pelosi's,” he added. “Go right ahead, be my guest.”