McCarthy said that Democrats, who seized and held the floor most of June 22 and June 23, chanting and broadcasting their demonstration through social media, “went beyond the rules” on several fronts and that he thinks some form of punishment may be needed.
“We expect members of Congress to adhere to the rules and decorum,” McCarthy said, suggesting that broadcasting their protest clearly broke rules and that fundraising pitches based on the sit-in might have crossed ethical lines. He also said that he has been told that some Democrats were abusive toward the nonpartisan staff members who serve the chamber and who were trying to do their jobs but were obstructed by lawmakers who had formed a sit-in around their desks in the well of the chamber.
“If that is true, what’s gone on, action has to be taken,” McCarthy said.
The comments and a potential investigation suggested that the 11-day break leading up to Monday’s Independence Day celebration did not cool tempers after the Democratic protest. As the demonstrations came to an end almost two weeks ago, a heated Ryan called it a “political stunt” as he waved Democratic fundraising letters in the air during a news conference.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denounced the call for an investigation and accused Ryan of continuing to avoid holding a full debate on gun legislation in the wake of the massacre at an Orlando nightclub June 12.
“The lengths the House Republican leadership will go to follow the NRA’s marching orders know no bounds,” Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, said in response to McCarthy’s comments. Democrats contend that the National Rifle Association’s opposition to their gun amendments — including one that would restrict people on domestic terrorist watch lists from buying weapons and one that would strengthen background checks — has prevented GOP leaders from even holding a debate on the issue.
The Republican leader said he and Ryan would meet with the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul D. Irving, the top law enforcement officer of the chamber, to review the situation and determine whether a formal investigation should occur.
“Get all the facts, and then decide accordingly what should be done,” McCarthy said.
One of the architects of the House floor protest tried to tamp down the anger when the chamber opened Tuesday at noon, suggesting that a meeting later Tuesday between Ryan and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who was the emotional leader of the protest, might soothe the still-simmering tension between the two sides.
“It is our goal and our hope that the speaker will provide an opportunity for the minority party to have its two votes taken up in this Congress. We prevail on the good nature of the speaker and know him to be an honest and forthright man,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who also will attend the meeting.
Larson and Lewis know Ryan well from their longtime service with the speaker on the Ways and Means Committee, where Ryan was chairman before becoming speaker in October.
Ryan continues to reject Democratic demands for votes on their legislation, but the speaker has set up a series of votes on related bills later this week that will give Pelosi’s caucus a chance to use a parliamentary move to force votes on their amendments.
The schedule calls for legislation, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), that would boost mental health treatment for people before they end up in a mass shooting situation. And then leaders have scheduled votes on a package of bills that are designed to be anti-terrorism, as GOP lawmakers contend that the response to the Orlando shootings should be focused on the shooter’s claim that he was inspired by Islamic State forces in the Middle East.
The section of the legislation that would prevent a gun sale to a suspected terrorist requires the government to prove to a judge, in three business days, that there is probable cause that the would-be buyer has links to terrorism.
It is similar to a proposal introduced in the Senate by John Cornyn (R-Tex.) that Democrats in both chambers oppose and that did not garner enough votes to pass the Senate last month. Democrats argue that the three-day window for proving probable cause is an impossible hurdle to clear and would do little to curtail the sale of guns to possible terrorists.
McCarthy mentioned that, rather than seizing the House floor, Democrats could have gone several other routes to get votes on their bills. One of which, the “motion to recommit,” is available to Democrats this week. It is the last procedural move that the minority party has available to it, and if written in the proper context, it effectively would serve as an amendment to the overarching bill being considered.