Whatcom Congresswoman explains House Democrats' protest
By 8 a.m. Thursday morning, most of the 168 House Democrats and 34 Senate Democrats who at one point occupied the U.S. House floor to push a gun vote had departed. But a few lawmakers remained in the chamber’s seats, listening to Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida urge Republican lawmakers to agree to a vote upon their return to the House on July 5.
“We’ve been on the floor a long time. I am tired, I am cold, I am hungry,” he said to soft laughs. “You know who never had a chance to be tired? The 12 people who went to a midnight show in Aurora and were slaughtered.”
Several papers were scattered on some of the empty seats: some bearing the names of victims of gun violence, others printed with a rainbow backsplash and the words “disarm hate.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who had cast aside a white blanket left over from the previous night, accused GOP colleagues of cowardice when she took the podium next.
“Our Republican colleagues cut and run. They turned the lights off,” she said. “I don’t know what they were thinking.”
A staffer walked in around 8:19 a.m. carrying recharged batteries for the multiple phones live streaming the sit-in on Periscope, switching out used packs for new ones one by one.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., walked into the chamber shortly after 8:35 a.m., draped in another white blanket and Snapchatting the proceedings on her phone.
Just over a dozen lawmakers had arrived in the chamber by 9 a.m., and several appeared to be tweeting the proceedings from their cellphones as podium speakers took turns talking.
House security officers opened up the visitors gallery shortly after 9 a.m., and about 30 people walked in and filled the seats, some accompanied by children.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. took the podium with Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. and recalled speaking with protestors standing outside the Capitol in the rain Thursday morning.
“We will be in this fight with you,’” he recalled them saying. “‘We stand with you. Don’t give up, keep fighting.”
Though several lawmakers speaking Thursday insisted on the commonsense nature of the gun control legislation they championed, the policy in questions has drawn criticism from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union for relying on the terror watchlist for bans.
The ACLU wrote to senators Wednesday opposing a similar “no fly, no buy” amendment in the Senate, citing concerns the watchlist would violate due process protections.
It “would impose a notification requirement that could result in a new ‘watchlist’ broader than any that currently exists,” ACLU officials wrote. The amendment would mandate that officials be “informed of each application for a firearm by any person who has been on the master watchlist at any point over the past five years—even if the person has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the investigation was otherwise closed, or the person was long ago removed from the list.”
In an unsuccessful move to halt the Democratic protest in the House of Representatives, Republican leaders adjourned the House early Thursday morning, delaying a possible vote on gun control legislation until lawmakers return July 5.
But Democrats remained on the chamber floor, vowing to continue the sit-in started Wednesday morning until Republican leaders acquiesced to a vote on “no fly, no buy” legislation restricting gun purchases by suspected terrorists.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., brought lawmakers to vote on several bills at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, including a funding bill to address the Zika virus, then moved to adjourn the session, sending lawmakers home. The adjournment followed several attempts by Republicans to proceed despite Democrats’ protests, which they called a political stunt.
There was no shortage of emotional appeal on behalf of gun victims’ families Thursday morning.
“Just mention the name of the city and you know what happened,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said, listing the names of shooting sites: Aurora, San Bernardino, Newtown.
“We’re not putting up with it anymore,” he said. “We have to vote on something.”
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn, vowed Democrats would keep talking until Republicans returned to the House.
“We will speak, whether the mikes are on or off, whether the cameras are on or off, because democracy doesn’t stop.”