Lewis shrugs as GOP promises punishment for sit-in

U.S. Rep. John Lewis is unmoved by a Republican effort to punish Democrats for participating in a headline-grabbing sit-in over gun control earlier this summer.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News on Thursday, the Atlanta Democrat and civil rights icon said he’s seen far worse.

“I’ve been punished on other occasions,” Lewis said. “And it makes it stronger.”

Lewis said gun violence still resonates with voters and that in his nearly 30 years in Congress, no single act or vote he’s taken has gotten more positive reception from the public than the sit-in.

“You get on a plane flying from Washington to Atlanta, the pilot, the flight attendant, the people say ‘thank you’ … People hug you. They kiss you. They embrace you,” Lewis said. “And it’s been that way all across America really. People want to see us do something.”

Lewis in June led nearly every House Democrat in a historic 26 hour sit-in that brought all of Washington to a halt as the group sought a vote on two gun control bills. But despite winning some goodwill on social media and Lewis' personal appeal to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Democrats were unable to persuade their GOP colleagues to agree to a vote.

House Republican leaders have vowed to punish Democrats for breaking rules such as blocking proceedings and shooting video with their phones. But the GOP has been vague about what's to come and when. Aides said leaders are still mulling their options.

A likely course of action is a vote to “censure,” or a symbolic slap on the wrist.

Some of Lewis’ Republican colleagues from Georgia said punishment is appropriate to underscore that future rules breaches will not be tolerated.

“If you break the rules, there are consequences for breaking the rules,” said U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe. “Or else there’s no point in having the rules.”

Gainesville Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a member of the House Rules Committee, said a reprimand is “not personality driven.”

“It’s a matter of House decorum,” he said.

But some of Lewis’ Democratic colleagues have framed the news of possible Republican punishment as a personal attack on Lewis.

“We have time, apparently, to bring up a resolution condemning those of us, including John Lewis, a man who has given his entire life to civil rights, to freedom of expression, who has recognized this as one of the most important civil rights of our time, the right to not be killed by a gun,” U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, said Wednesday.

Lewis, however, said he sees himself as part of a group fighting for a strong cause.

“There’s just too many people, too many young people, too many children who are losing their lives because of gun violence and we have to do something about it,” he said.