(Bloomberg) — Democrats closed out a marathon sit-in on the U.S. House floor Thursday afternoon after 25 hours of emotionally charged speeches demanding action on gun control, but they insisted their protests would continue in other forms.
“We are going to win the struggle. We’re going to win big,” Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a leader of the protest, said in closing out the sit-in Thursday afternoon. “We must never, ever give up and never give in.”
“We must come back here on July 5th, more determined than ever before,” he said.
Speaker Paul Ryan, who declared an early start to the week-long recess, said Thursday morning that the sit-in wouldn’t change how Republicans run the House, dismissing it as a “publicity stunt” that risks setting a dangerous precedent for American democracy.
But Democrats, who were demanding votes on two gun-related measures in the wake of the Orlando shooting where 40 people were killed in a gay nightclub, galvanized their supporters with an unusually intimate view of the House floor broadcast on television from lawmakers’ mobile phones. Even as Democrats vacated the House floor, they insisted the protest would continue in some form through the House’s return on July 5.
“Absolutely it was a success,” Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, said Thursday. “They ran.”
“The protest is going to last,” Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina told reporters Thursday afternoon. “It will take different forms.”
The Democratic sit-in interrupted a planned debate on a spending bill that funds the Treasury Department and other agencies, as well as another vote on H.R. 1270, a package that could change the toughen the rules governing Affordable Care Act exchange plan subsidy users who receive excess premium tax credit subsidy help and increase the health savings account deduction limits.
Late Wednesday, Ryan gaveled the House back into session and unsuccessfully tried to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would block the administration’s recently issued rules for brokers who handle retirement accounts. The tally was 239-180, short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.
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Ryan made clear Thursday that he would not relent on Democratic demands, saying Democrats were exploiting the issue for fundraising purposes and that there is a well-established process for considering legislation.
“We do so within the bounds of order and respect for the system,” Ryan told reporters. “Otherwise, it all falls apart.”
On the Senate side, Republican Susan Collins of Maine said Thursday that Republican leaders were preparing to hold a procedural vote on her gun compromise proposal, which is aimed at preventing suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. The vote would be aimed at killing her proposal, but she said she is hopeful that a majority of the the Senate would reject that effort.
Early Thursday, after it became clear that House Democrats intended to continue their sit-in indefinitely, Ryan hastily closed down the House after 3 a.m. His action came nearly 16 hours after Democrats rebelled over a lack of action on gun-control legislation by staging a 1960s-style sit-in on the House floor. The protest continued before a largely empty chamber, but the mobile-phone footage of the debate drew wide attention.
Ryan said Republican leaders are looking at all options to decide how to prevent Democrats from shutting down House business and bringing some “order out of this chaos. “
“This is not a proud moment for democracy or the people who started these protests,” he said, adding that leaders were “reviewing everything” to see if any penalties were warranted for the sit-in.
House Democrats are demanding votes on legislation establishing background checks on gun sales, and a ban on firearms sales to those on the government’s “no-fly” list of suspected terrorists. Both are long-gridlocked measures they say could gain traction in the wake of this month’s mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that left 49 dead.
“We will continue to shed a bright light on the urgency of stopping this carnage,” Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said Thursday morning. She vowed to keep up the protest throughout the recess, which ends July 5. “We will not stop until we pass that legislation.”
The Senate this week is negotiating over its own compromise proposal aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists as it debates a spending bill that includes funding for the Justice Department. Four other gun-related amendments were defeated on the Senate floor Monday.
Early Thursday morning, Ryan quickly pushed through the House a top legislative priority, a spending bill that includes funding to combat the Zika virus. Yet the rebellion by Democrats took the spotlight off that vote, as well as Ryan’s ongoing effort to roll out a six-part election-year agenda that Republicans in the chamber can campaign on this fall.
Ryan on Wednesday released a long-awaited Republican alternative plan to Obamacare, just as the protest was getting underway, and on Friday will detail a set of changes to the U.S. tax code, which hasn’t been overhauled in 15 years.
The protest began shortly before noon Wednesday. Dozens of lawmakers were joined by a parade of Senate Democrats to demand action to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
As the night wore on, the scene on the floor became heated after Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas confronted Democrat Brad Sherman of California, who was speaking at the time. Gesturing toward Democrats, Gohmert yelled, “Radical Islam killed these people!”
Pelosi asked her caucus on the floor earlier Wednesday evening whether Democrats should continue their protest even if Republicans try to hold votes. Democrats yelled back, “Stay! Stay! Stay!”
“It will last as long as it needs,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.
Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said he hopes Speaker Paul Ryan “doesn’t give an inch” to the Democratic sit-in to force gun-control votes because doing so would set a precedent for future disruptions of the House.
The protest ground House proceedings to a halt for most of the day, delaying votes on several measures and putting Republicans on the defensive over an issue that has taken on added significance in an election year. Democrats were demanding a vote on a measure that would bar suspected terrorists on the “no-fly” list from being able to purchase guns.
They also adopted, 239-171, a conference agreement negotiated by House and Senate Republicans that includes funding to tackle the Zika virus. But Democrats and the White House have rejected the measure, calling the funding insufficient and blasting several provisions they claim are partisan and unacceptable.
Earlier, the speaker criticized the Democratic tactics.
“This is nothing more than a publicity stunt,” Ryan said on CNN Wednesday evening. “This is not a way to try to bring up legislation.”
Republican leaders kept the C-SPAN cameras off. Democratic lawmakers used smuggled mobile phones, which are banned from the floor by House rules, to broadcast their protest over streaming services. The sit-in itself had strong echoes of the 1960s civil-rights movement and was led by Lewis, one of that period’s most visible figures.
“Now is the time for us to find a way to dramatize it, to make it real,” Lewis said on the floor while surrounded by fellow lawmakers from his party. “We have to occupy the floor of the House until there’s action.”
Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush said that there were no Republicans on the floor, participating in the sit-in.
“Speaker Ryan. You can run, but you can’t hide,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
The hurdles to passing any gun-related legislation remain high. Even Republicans supportive of some of these measures say they have little chance of passing on the House floor.
“It resonates in my district, but in other districts they see it as the first step towards taking away their guns,” says Rep. Peter King of New York. “I would say it has no future.”
In the wake of the Orlando shooting, Republican Senator Susan Collins has been negotiating a compromise gun-curb proposal that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said would get a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, after expressing a few reservations about the Collins proposal, said Wednesday that he would vote for it.
John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters Wednesday that he is “optimistic” that he and Collins will be able to work out a deal on a gun measure that would unify the Senate, with a vote still possible this week.
But House Republican leaders have made no commitment to hold a vote on Democratic gun measures in their chamber.
“We’re not going to take away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights without due process,” Ryan said.
‘No other way’
House Democrats said their sit-in was not planned ahead of time, but instead was a more spontaneous event.
“I would say at least 50 are here,” Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky said in a message from the House floor. “We just decided there was no other way to get action, since we can’t filibuster. Our members are all in on this, and leadership is totally supportive.”
The Republicans, he said, “don’t know what to do. It will be interesting.”
Obama tweeted his support of the protest, thanking Lewis for “leading on gun violence where we need it most.”
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who held the Senate floor for nearly 15 hours last week in an effort to demand votes in that chamber on gun curbs, was among the many Democrats who joined the House sit-in.
“We will not alter the way Congress responds to the mass slaughter of our constituents without ripping up the usual script and demanding change,” Murphy said in a statement.
The Senate voted Monday on four gun-related measures, all of which were defeated, but negotiations are ongoing over a compromise proposal.
‘Are we blind?’
House Democrats said they are getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of debate in their chamber.
“What is the tipping point? Are we blind? Can we see?” Lewis said. “How many more mothers, how many fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something?”
The Democrats said they are also demanding a vote on expanded background checks.
At one point, some of the members in chamber began to sing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” an African-American spiritual that echoes back to past non-violent demonstrations in the South and elsewhere.
Back in 2008, House Republicans staged a similar sit-in, occupying the House floor to demand a vote on offshore oil drilling.
Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, is an advocate of assault-weapon restrictions and serves on the advisory board of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group.
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