A Democratic sit-in at the House of Representatives in Washington DC turned ugly last night when Democrats and Republicans began shouting over the blocking of a vote on gun-control bills.
Democrats took over the House floor on Wednesday in an attempt to force a vote on gun control, vowing to stage a sit-in until action was taken towards a vote. While the protest began peacefully, tensions rose as evening set in and House Democrats hunkered down to occupy the floor throughout the night.
The day began with House Speaker Paul Ryan refusing to allow votes on two bills involving gun control measures: one which would expand background checks for gun purchasers, and another which would prevent anyone on the government’s no-fly list or FBI terror watchlists from buying guns.
Democrats are pushing hard for these laws in the wake of the horrific Orlando nightclub shooting of June 12, in which a Muslim man who had been on the FBI’s watchlist shot over 100 people at a gay bar with a legally purchased weapon.
Enraged by Ryan’s attempts to redirect the session, Democrats began chanting, “No bill, no break” at the speaker, threatening to prevent Congress from adjourning for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
“We will not leave the floor of this House until this Congress takes action!” declared Representative Kathy D. Castor (D-Florida).
— Katherine Clark (@RepKClark) June 23, 2016
Republicans responded by quickly declaring a recess, triggering the shutdown of televised coverage on the floor, which is broadcast only when the House is in session.
However, Democrats got around the lack of coverage by using Twitter’s live-feed Periscope and Facebook Live to stream video of the increasingly heated and bizarre developments on the floor. C-SPAN picked up the Perioscope feed and nationally televised the blurry, shaky footage taken by House Democrats on their cell phones, and Twitter blew up with tweets from the House floor.
Dozens of Democrats vowed to stay the night and sat down on the carpeted floor of the chamber.
— Rep. John Yarmuth (@RepJohnYarmuth) June 22, 2016
“We have to occupy the floor of the House until there is action,” thundered House Democrat John Lewis, a civil rights hero who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960’s.
Around midnight, the protesters began to bring in sleeping bags, pillows, and snacks to emphasize their commitment to the sit-in. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren brought Dunkin’ Donuts to support her colleagues, and constituents had pizzas delivered.
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) June 23, 2016
Outside the House building, hundreds of people collected to show their support for the Democratic protest inside, carrying signs and shouting encouragement to the representatives.
Inside, House Democrats continued their crusade, at one point bursting into a rendition of “We Shall Overcome”; at another, they shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at Ryan as he attempted to restore order. Late in the evening, Republican Louie Ghomert and Democrat Corrine Brown got into a shouting match, with lawmakers restraining both.
Lawmakers held up signs with the names of Orlando victims written on them, displaying them to Ryan and cameras.
“Who has to be shot, and how many have to die before we do anything?” asked congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-Illinois).
President Barack Obama expressed his support for the protest on Twitter, tweeting in response to John Lewis.
Thank you John Lewis for leading on gun violence where we need it most. https://t.co/vctfqAH5Wt
— President Obama (@POTUS) June 22, 2016
— Sean Patrick Maloney (@spmaloney) June 23, 2016
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) June 23, 2016
As of Thursday morning, the protest is still on-going.