House Democrats have surprised their Republican colleagues with a dramatic sit-in on the House floor. They have demanded that the GOP majority allow for a vote on gun legislation, prompting House Republicans to cut the video footage feed to the chamber.
Following the failure of the Senate to pass four separate pieces of gun legislation on June 20, House Democrats have called for a vote on three bills that would expand background checks and bar persons placed on the FBI's "No Fly" list from purchasing a firearm.
Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina had called for a vote on June 21, but was rebuffed by Republicans who denied his request, Politico reports.
Clyburn’s fellow Democrats vowed to increasingly apply pressure on the House Speaker, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The issue of gun legislation has intensified following the Orlando massacre, the most fatal mass shooting in U.S. history.
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“Every day, there is going to be more and more pressure on Ryan to give us a vote, or send us home without a vote,” said Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York, reports Politico. “So far, they’re dug in, so we’re going to use every strategy and tactic we have to either punish them for being dug in or help them pick their feet off the ground.”
As the minority in the House chamber, Democrats have very few options to use to compel Speaker Ryan and his fellow Republicans to open floor votes. One move was occupying the House floor, blocking further business from being conducted.
On June 22, Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia urged his fellow Democrats to join him on the floor, catching their Republican colleagues off-guard. As a result, 40 fellow House Democrats joined Lewis, disrupting the chamber from taking any further actions.
“Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary, sometimes you have to make a way out of no way,” Lewis told NBC News, referring to his history as a leader of the civil rights movement.
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Lewis had penned a letter to Speaker Ryan urging him to keep the House in session to allow further debate and a possible vote on the gun legislation. Ryan appeared unmoved, prompting Lewis to stage the sit-in.
“This is the time,” Lewis added. “Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.”
Speaker Ryan could order the floor cleared or threaten to sanction the sitting House members, but is currently keeping the chamber in recess, hoping to wait out the protest.
The House Minority Leader, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, held a press conference outside of Capitol Hill to announce the Democrats’ intentions.
“Once again we are fighting an uphill fight to bring legislation to the floor,” Pelosi said. “We truly believe that if there was a vote, we would win the vote.”
The House Republicans ordered that the C-SPAN cameras filming the chamber be turned off. While the network broadcasts all activity in the House, whichever majority party controls the chamber also controls where the cameras are positioned and whenever they are allowed to film, according to The Hill.
Steve Scully, the political editor of C-SPAN, took to social media to alert viewers that it was not up to the network to show the protest.
“[B]lame Congress not CSPAN,” Scully tweeted.