Cameras go dark during House Democrats’ sit-in

Democratic, Sit-in, John Lewis, Gun vote, gun control, no fly, no buy, no bill, no break

Cameras covering the House floor were turned off on Wednesday as Democrats staged a sit-in to try to force a vote on gun control legislation.

House Republicans control the House and the cameras that feed C-SPAN, and said they would be kept off until the House was back in session. 

As House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was speaking, presiding officer Rep. Ted Poe (R) gaveled the House out of session. The cameras quickly turned off. 

“The gentleman’s time has expired. Pursuant to clause 12-A of rule 1, the chair declares the House [in recess] until the hour of 12 noon,” Poe said. 

A spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said shortly after that the chamber would be in recess as long as Democrats held up normal legislative business.

Without the live cable feed, Democratic members took to their smartphones to captures pictures of the floor, and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) used Periscope to live stream the event, though it is against House rules to broadcast from the floor.  

When the sit-in got going during the 11 a.m. hour, some viewers — and lawmakers — took to Twitter to question why C-SPAN was not streaming the protest, which is highlighting House Democrats’ demand for votes on gun control legislation in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. 

C-SPAN has had to repeatedly mention that it has “no control” of the cameras, with the network’s political editor tweeting to “blame Congress.” 

Comedian Samantha Bee even weighed in, offering to film a reenactment if Democrats would fill her in on the details of what happened on the floor.  

The incident highlights a major conflict between C-SPAN — the network that has provided floor coverage for decades — and the House administration, which controls the video, audio and angles of the cameras. 

The feed itself is produced by the House recording studio, which is under the control of the House majority leadership. 

Since 1979, the cable network has had to rely entirely on the House feed for its coverage. The company has made numerous requests to both parties over the years to set up its own cameras, which have been denied. 

“We have a long history of asking for access and being denied by both parties over the years,” C-SPAN Communications Director Howard Mortman said. 

He said it is common for the cameras to go off when the chamber is in recess, though that did not stop viewers from expressing their outrage.  

In 2008, Democrats made a similar move. 

Politico reported at the time that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “adjourned the House, turned off the lights and killed the microphones,” but was unable to keep Republicans from staying on the floor to talk about gas prices.

Then-Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and other Republicans opposed a motion to adjourn because Democrats had refused to schedule a vote on offshore drilling. 

At the end of 2011, the tables turned and it was Democrats accusing the GOP of silencing them. 

The House was in a pro forma session in late December when Maryland Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen tried to interrupt the Republican at the dais to seek unanimous consent to vote on a Senate bill extending cuts to payroll taxes, the Huffington Post reported.

In response, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) brought down the gavel and walked out as Hoyer was trying to make his motion.

Updated 2:19 p.m.

Tags Boehner C-SPAN Democrats' sit-in Gun control House floor John Boehner John Yarmuth Paul Ryan Ted Poe

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