Democrats on Thursday afternoon ended their gun control sit-in after an extraordinary 26 hours that started with an overtaking of House floor proceedings and included a first-of-its-kind use of social media to broadcast their impassioned speeches live to the country.
But despite some remarkable moments of civil disobedience that have not been seen on Capitol Hill in many years, they were ultimately unsuccessful in their main goal of compelling Republican leaders to schedule a vote on two gun control proposals before the weeklong July Fourth recess.
They wanted a commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan to allow votes on two bills, one that would expand background checks and another that would bar those on the terror watch list from buying guns. Both measures were rejected by the Senate on Monday.
Instead, Republican leaders kept the chamber working late into Wednesday night on unrelated business. After quickly passing a major spending bill addressing the Zika virus, they adjourned the House until July 5 — with no promises of any gun control debate.
The scene on the House floor throughout the night drifted from the chaotic to the surreal and back again.
At one point after midnight on Thursday, Democrats drowned out Ryan as he sought to reassert control of the floor, chanting “shame” and “no bill, no break” as they flooded the well of the House. Many lawmakers held up papers displaying the names of gunshot victims. Other video showed Democrats nearly coming to punches with Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, who shouted “radical Islam killed these poor people,” referring to the 49 people killed June 12 in a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.
The scene eventually became more orderly, and Democrats continued their sit-in for 10 more hours after Ryan adjourned the chamber.
They wound down their effort shortly before 1 p.m. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, the civil rights icon who led the effort on the floor, received a standing ovation from his colleagues, who quickly surrounded him and took photos and live video as he stepped to the podium for the sit-in’s final speech.
“We got in the way. We got into trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis said, prompting cheers from his colleagues. “We must keep the faith and come back here on July 5 more determined than ever before.”
The group then moved outside to the east front of the Capitol, where the lawmakers greeted a crowd of hundreds of gun control advocates, some of whom had been assembled there all night. Leaders vowed to push forward.
“We cannot stop until we get a bill, until a law is passed,” Nancy Pelosi of California, the House’s top Democrat, later told reporters.
“This isn’t about politics. It’s not about elections. It’s not about campaigns,” she said. “It’s about the safety of the American people. We want this off the table.”
Ryan once again called the sit-in a “stunt” on Thursday, pointing out an effort by the Democratic Party to fundraise off the events on the House floor.
The Wisconsin Republican said the GOP was not being unfair in turning down Democrats’ calls for votes on gun legislation. He said a similar Democratic provision put up for a vote before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday was rejected.
“There was a vote. It was in the committee through regular order, and the vote failed. That’s a fact they didn’t want to talk about,” Ryan said of Democrats. He said Democrats have not tried the other method of forcing a bill onto the House floor, which requires securing 218 signatures — those of the majority of lawmakers in the chamber.
“The reason I call this a stunt is because they know this isn’t going anywhere,” Ryan said. “It already failed in the Senate.”
In the Senate, there was tepid bipartisan support on Thursday for a narrower measure written by moderate Maine Republican Susan Collins that would bar gun sales to people on the government’s no-fly list. The path forward on that effort was unclear, though, since it did not attract the 60 votes needed to eventually advance, and it currently is sitting in legislative limbo.
Georgia Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue voted against the Collins proposal, but they supported an alternative aimed at addressing Republican concerns about better protecting the due process rights of would-be gun buyers. The alternative proposal fell short of the necessary support to move forward.
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