Democrats stage House sit-in over gun-control vote

Democrats staging a sit-in on the House floor to demand votes on gun-control legislation on Wednesday. The picture was tweeted from the House floor by Representative Katherine Clark (in blue). The Democrats were led in their sit-in by Representative
Democrats staging a sit-in on the House floor to demand votes on gun-control legislation on Wednesday. The picture was tweeted from the House floor by Representative Katherine Clark (in blue). The Democrats were led in their sit-in by Representative John Lewis (dark suit), a civil rights leader.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chaos as Republicans try to resume regular business; Speaker considers adjourning House till July 5 after he is shouted down

WASHINGTON • A Democratic sit- in on the House of Representatives floor demanding votes on gun- control legislation led to a remarkable scene of pandemonium and a late-night confrontation on Wednesday when Speaker Paul Ryan was shouted down after briefly regaining control.

Democrats pressed against the Speaker's dais, waving signs with the names of gun victims and chanting "No Bill! No break!" as Mr Ryan repeatedly banged his gavel in an attempt to restore order, reported The New York Times.

When Mr Ryan gave up and left the Speaker's chair, Democrats shouted "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

The stand-off continued early yesterday as he contemplated adjourning the House until July 5, which would shut down the Democrats' protest or leave them alone in a darkened, empty chamber.

Republicans were planning to push one last vote on the annual Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Bill - considered politically vital because it contains US$1.1 billion (S$1.47 billion) to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

TIME TO SPEAK UP

We were elected to lead, Mr Speaker. We must be headlights and not tail lights. We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation.

MR JOHN LEWIS, the Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District, on the demand for gun-control measures.

Earlier, there were scenes of chaos as Republicans tried to resume regular business. At one point, Democrats began singing We Shall Overcome - altering the lyrics to say "We shall pass a Bill some day" - as Republicans shouted in outrage.

When Representative Don Young of Alaska, a Republican, tried to confront the chanting Democrats, he was restrained by aides and colleagues.

The chaos was set off with the sit-in around noon on Wednesday when Democrats reiterated their demand for a vote on gun-control measures before Congress begins its week-long July 4 recess.

The Democrats were led in their action by Mr John Lewis, the Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District and a notable leader of the United States civil rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s with a history of organising sit-ins.

Mr Lewis made an impassioned speech on the House floor on Wednesday. "The time for silence and patience is long gone," he was quoted as saying by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"We were elected to lead, Mr Speaker. We must be headlights and not tail lights. We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence in our nation," he said.

Democrats - who do not have enough strength in either the House or Senate to pass legislation on their own - have resorted to spectacle to highlight their anger over the failure by Congress to take any action to tighten the nation's gun-control laws, reported The New York Times.

 

Mr Ryan, in a CNN interview, dismissed the sit-in as a publicity stunt.

The Democrats began their latest push, including a 15-hour filibuster last week by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, after the June 12 massacre in Orlando, Florida.

They have repeatedly accused Republicans of siding with the National Rifle Association rather than with the victims of gun violence.

Democrats' exasperation has grown since Monday, when four gun-control measures - two favoured by Democrats and two by Republicans - were defeated in the Senate.

Shortly after the sit-in began on Wednesday, Republicans quickly declared a recess, cutting off regular business, as well as the live television feed of floor proceedings, which operates only when the House is in session.

The Democrats were left in control of the Chamber, where they gave a series of impassioned speeches and skirted the TV blackout by using Twitter's live-feed Periscope service and Facebook's live video platform to broadcast their efforts.

That was a violation of House rules, which bans cameras or other electronic devices on the floor, reported Reuters.

Cable news channel C-Span carried the Periscope feed as if the House were in session. Other news networks and cable news channels, including MSNBC, Fox and CNN, also ran parts of the footage.

#NoBillNoBreak became a rallying cry for gun-control supporters on Twitter and quickly became the top-trending hashtag in the US on the social media platform.

Politicians and average social media users alike used the hashtag as a sign of solidarity with the sit-in.

SEE WORLD

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Democrats stage House sit-in over gun-control vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe