Dems stage election-year sit-in on guns

Published 10:08 am Thursday, June 23, 2016

WASHINGTON — A drained and dwindling group of Democrats carried their remarkable House floor sit-in into the morning Thursday, disrupting the business of Congress in the wake of the Orlando shooting rampage and making demands for gun-control votes in an extraordinary protest broadcast live to the world.

Republicans, who control the chamber, refused to yield, branding the move a publicity stunt and summarily adjourning the chamber at about 3:15 a.m. EDT until after the Fourth of July. By 9:30 a.m., 22 hours after the protest commenced, about a dozen Democrats remained. They gave speeches that mixed victory declarations with promises not to back down in their drive to curb firearm violence.

“It’s rightful indignation,” Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said about the Democratic sit-in and the positive reaction it was getting from supporters. “America has had enough.”

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When Republicans streamed to the exits hours earlier, Democrats stayed behind on the House floor, shouting “No bill no break!” and waving papers with the names of gun victims written in black. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said she was ready to stay “until Hell freezes over.”

With a crowd cheering them on from outside the Capitol and many more following the theatrics on social media, Democrats declared success in dramatizing the argument for action to stem gun violence.

“Just because they cut and run in the dark of night, just because they have left doesn’t mean we are taking no for an answer,” said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Republicans fiercely resisted the pressure and said Democrats had accomplished nothing other than disrupting the business of the House to score political points. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called it “a publicity stunt.”

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who had participated in the civil rights sit-ins in the South in the 1960s, said Democrats had “crossed one bridge.” He added, “We have other bridges to cross,” and said Democrats “made a down payment on ending gun violence” in America.

At one point overnight, the two sides nearly came to blows after Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, approached the Democrats and yelled, “Radical Islam!” Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., started yelling back. The two came within inches of each other, both screaming, only to be separated by colleagues.

Pressure had built on Capitol Hill following the shootings at a Florida gay nightclub this month that killed 49 people and injured 53 others. The assailant also died in the incident. The mass attack followed similar tragic incidents over the past years including the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The agitation for action caused a Senate filibuster last week and led to the chaos in the House, a spectacle captured the attention of a Washington gridlocked on guns.

House Republicans used their prerogatives as the majority party to muscle through, with no time for debate, a partisan bill that provides money for the Zika crisis. GOP lawmakers overruled Democrats’ objections and then acted to adjourn the House into next month. Democrats cried “Shame, Shame!”

Republicans shut off the cameras in the House gallery throughout most of the protest, but Democrats used their cellphones to capture the action. C-SPAN carried the feeds live via Periscope and Facebook, in an unprecedented move.