Democrats up all night in legislative vigil for gun control
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers planned to hit the 24-hour mark in their disruptive sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday and said they will keep pushing for a vote on gun control legislation even though the House be...
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers planned to hit the 24-hour mark in their disruptive sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday and said they will keep pushing for a vote on gun control legislation even though the House began a holiday break.
After a raucous day that nearly erupted into a fistfight on the House floor, Republicans used their majority status to assert control over the chamber during the night. They adjourned early on Thursday after forcing through several measures unrelated to guns and said there would be no more votes until after the July 4 holiday.
The Democrats stayed put on the House floor. Galvanized by the June 12 massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, they had demanded that Republican leaders allow a vote on gun-related legislation
Scores of Democrats had gathered in the chamber throughout Wednesday. They sat in the aisles, often chanting and singing, and brought business to a halt.
"We are going to hold the floor of the House of Representatives ... until we can get the majority to do their jobs and give us a vote," Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CBS "This Morning."
Lawmakers planned to stay until at least 11:15 a.m., which would mark 24 hours since Democratic Representative John Lewis invited his colleagues to sit down with him on Wednesday, Democratic Representative Steve Israel told CNN.
Such dramatic tactics by legislators are rare in the U.S. Capitol and the Democrats' protest underscored how contentious the gun control issue has become after the Orlando massacre and other mass shootings in Connecticut, Colorado, California and elsewhere in recent years. It also has become a heated issue in the run-up to the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.
Democrats were seeking votes on legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases, as well as measures to curb the sale of weapons to people on government watch lists.
Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia and a key figure in the civil rights protests of 1960s, said the fight for gun restrictions would go on.
"Today we've come a distance. We've made some progress," he said. "We've crossed one bridge but we have other bridges to cross. And when we come back in July, we'll start all over again. The American people, they want us to act, they want us to do something."
Gun control groups said the sit-in helped stir up grass-roots activity. Jennifer Hoppe, deputy director of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said that in less than 24 hours starting at midday Wednesday, about 130,000 calls were made from supporters to members of Congress representing districts all over the country.
CHAOS ON THE FLOOR
Republicans, angry about losing control of the chamber for most of a day, denounced the sit-in as a publicity stunt. Chaotic scenes ensued when several Republican representatives charged the chamber floor and yelled at protesting Democrats, prompting a confrontation that nearly descended into fisticuffs.
House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted he would not bring up any bill that would take away gun owners' constitutional rights.
Instead, he forced votes on unrelated legislation. Democrats held signs honoring victims of gun violence during the votes and sang "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the civil rights movement.
Ryan called for decorum but could scarcely be heard over Democrats chanting "no bill, no break!" to demand action on guns before the holiday recess.
"The House is focused on eliminating terrorists, not constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens," said Ryan's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong. "And no stunts on the floor will change that."
The Democrats' move came after last week's filibuster by Senate Democrats to protest inaction on guns in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, the worst in modern U.S. history.
After the Senate talk-a-thon, the Senate's Republican majority scheduled votes on four gun control measures - all of which failed on Monday. Work on a compromise is under way.
Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who joined the protesting House members for a while, told CNN the chamber could have a vote on that bill as early as Thursday.
Congress has not passed major gun control legislation since 1994, with gun rights defenders saying such measures infringe the constitutional right to bear arms.
Pleading for action on gun control, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi invoked not only Orlando but other mass shootings, including an attack a year ago by a white man at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine people.
"Just because they have left doesn't mean we are taking no for an answer," she said after Republicans departed.
In addition to Kaine, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker took part in the sit-in. All three have been mentioned as potential running mates for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who voiced her support on Twitter.
Lawmakers also took to social media to document their demonstration with video and pictures.
Outside the Capitol, dozens of supporters gathered in solidarity at a rally organized by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
By Susan Cornwell