It wasn’t a sit-in, but House Democrats on Thursday resumed their floor protest to demand votes on bills to combat gun violence.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, struggled to find enough GOP support for legislation they have promoted as a response to last month’s mass shooting in Orlando.
Starting slightly before 1 p.m., Democrats lined up by the dozens on the floor for about 90 minutes, requesting to bring up a bill to expand background checks. As they did, each held up the photograph of a victim of gun violence, noting that their request was to “honor the memory” of an individual “who never received a moment of silence on the House floor.”
The display was a continuation of a demonstration that began Thursday morning, when several Democrats held up similar pictures of victims as Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) read their names and ages, continuing even after the GOP gaveled the House into a recess.
The Democrats’ latest effort to highlight their anger over a lack of congressional response to recent gun incidents comes as House Republicans explore options for punishing members who participated in last month’s 26-hour sit-in, during which Democrats shouted pro-gun-control slogans on the floor, hung signs from podiums and used smartphones to live-stream the protest. Democrats are pushing Republicans to hold votes on measures that would prevent suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms and expand mandatory background checks for gun sales.
“Every option is on the table,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters Thursday with regard to punishing Democratic protesters he accused of trying to turn the House floor into a “partisan war zone.”
Republican leaders are having trouble finding enough votes for their own gun and counterterrorism measure due to opposition from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 40 conservative lawmakers.
Leaders had hoped to vote this week on legislation that includes a Republican-sponsored measure to limit gun sales to suspected terrorists if the government can prove within three business days that there is probable cause to prohibit the transaction. The proposal has the approval of the National Rifle Association and Democrats oppose it as unworkable in practice.
But on Thursday, Ryan said he didn’t know when the legislative package would receive a vote.
“We want to get this terrorism legislation right,” Ryan said. “We’re not going to rush it, we’re going to get it right, and that’s what we’re working on with our members.”
GOP conservatives object to the bill over a host of issues, including whether it does enough to protect the rights of gun owners and because leaders wanted to bring it directly to the floor without giving members a chance to put their mark on the proposal through the committee process.
Some conservatives said they believe that any gun vote is too much of a nod to the political firestorm Democrats whipped up last month when they staged their sit-in.
If someone “is a suspected terrorist and we have evidence… that person should either be in jail or out of the country,” argued Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus. “The gun issue is secondary, and shows it’s political.”
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), another member of the Freedom Caucus, said Ryan told GOP members Wednesday “that there are members that need to have this vote” on the counter-terrorism package, a likely nod to representatives in swing districts where gun control might come up as an election issue.
Many of conservatives are also clamoring for Ryan to take action against House Democrats for their sit-in.
“He’s not the kind that pursues retribution, but I think he has to pursue order,” Salmon said of Ryan. He added that the speaker “has shown time and time again” — including “with some of us that have not played so nicely within our conference,” that doing so is against his nature.
Ryan said he met with the sergeant-at-arms and the House Parliamentarian to discuss potential responses, out of concern the sit-in would set a bad precedent.
“We want to make sure we establish the right precedents,” Ryan said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) scoffed at the idea Ryan might try to punish Democrats, inviting him to “make my day.”
“What are they going to do, investigate John Lewis for sitting on the floor of the House?” Pelosi said, referring to the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who led the floor protest. “I don’t think so. But it would interesting to see.”
“Members use technology on the floor all the time,” Pelosi added, questioning how Republicans would censure them for using devices already allowed on the House floor. She added that she was “very proud of our members.”
Still, House Democrats clung very closely to official procedure during Thursday’s demonstration.
“We’re not asking for a lot, we’re asking for a vote,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who chairs the House’s task force on gun violence prevention, citing statistics about the House’s recent gun violence work: “Thirty moments of silence on the floor of this house. Zero votes to protect the people we represent.”