Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Democrats disrupt House, stage protest

Published:Thursday | June 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Democrat members of Congress, including Representatives John Lewis, D-Georgia (center) and Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut (left), participate in sit-down protest seeking a vote on gun control measures yesterday, on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington.



Rebellious Democrats disrupted the House's legislative work yesterday, staging a sit-in on the House floor and refusing to leave until they secured a vote on gun-control measures. Exasperated Republicans were forced to recess while cutting off cameras that showed the protest.

Nearly 100 Democrats, led by Georgia Representative John Lewis, demanded a vote on measures to expand background checks and block gun purchases by some suspected terrorists in the aftermath of last week's massacre in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people in a gay nightclub. It was the worst shooting in modern United States history.

"No bill, no break," shouted Democrats, who demanded that Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, keep the House in session through its planned week-long recess next week to debate and vote on gun legislation.

Democrats accused Republicans of political cowardice by failing to schedule a vote.

"Are they more afraid than the children at Sandy Hook?" asked Rep Mike Thompson, D-California, referring to the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school children, in Newtown, Connecticut. "What is so scary about having a vote?"

Lewis, a veteran civil rights leader revered by Democrats, said action on gun violence is long overdue.

"We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence," Lewis said as he urged fellow Democrats to stand with him in the area near the podium, known as the well.




About 30 minutes after the sit-in began, Rep Ted Poe, R-Texas, tried to start the House's work at noon. The customary prayer and pledge of allegiance went ahead, but Poe was forced to recess the House when dozens of Democrats refused to leave the well.

Rep John Larson, D-Connecticut, said lawmakers were "calling for the simple dignity of a vote". Joining the protest were at least six Democratic senators, including Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, who had waged a nearly 15-hour filibuster last week to force votes in the Senate on gun legislation. Those votes failed on Monday night.

Larson and other Democrats cited polls showing broad public support for expanding background checks for firearms purchases and blocking suspected terrorists from buying guns.

"Rise up Democrats, rise up Americans," Larson said. "We will occupy this chamber."

Among those protesting on the House floor was Rep Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs in combat. She got out of her wheelchair and sat on the House floor with other lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the House needs to act on gun legislation, rather than continually hold moments of silence in memory of victims of gun violence.

As the protest continued, lawmakers briefly sang 'We Shall Not Be Moved'.