Rep. Ted Lieu’s national profile skyrocketed as he became the acerbic foil to the nation’s tweeter in chief, blasting President Trump with incessant and sharply worded responses to presidential posts.
But the California Democrat’s recent foray into social media took aim at other legislators who he said were not doing enough to beef up the nation’s gun control laws in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting at a Texas church.
While his colleagues were inside the House chambers on Monday, having a moment of silence for the victims, Lieu was outside, phone in selfie position, being the opposite of silent.
“My colleagues are doing a moment of silence in the House of Representatives chamber. I respect their right to do that and I myself have participated in many of them, but I can’t do this again,” he told his Facebook followers.
“I’ve been to too many moments of silences. In just my short career in Congress, three of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred. I will not be silent. What we need is we need action. We need to pass gun safety legislation now.”
It was a spray of gasoline on the already incendiary debate about guns in the United States — particularly concerning access to the most dangerous weapons that have been used to take dozens of lives in violent moments.
Lieu, who is Catholic, told The Washington Post he prayed for the victims on Sunday, but got angry when he saw the congressional calendar. It contained the moment of silence, but no legislative action.
“This is all we do in Congress,” he told The Post. “We do this brief moment of silence, and then nothing happens. It’s not as if we’re business people. We make laws. We’re actually in a position where we can do something about this.”
His ire grew for most of a day, and when the moment of silence began Monday, he grabbed his phone and walked out.
Before Lieu had finished the video, he had already received praise from people who say he got to the meat of the issue and criticism from those who derided him for making a political point during a moment of mourning.
“So glad you are MY REPRESENTATIVE. So proud of you,” one woman wrote during the video.
“Your an idiot,” a man wrote a few milliseconds later. “To leave a moment of silence to do a political rant is not cool. Total disrespect for those killed.”
“One minute is all you needed to wait,” another commenter said. “It’s an embarrassment that you couldn’t show 60 seconds of respect before you started grandstanding.”
May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 6, 2017
As the debate raged on, investigators were trying to parse out how the suspected killer got his guns despite a violent criminal past.
The Air Force said it did not follow policies for alerting authorities about Devin Kelley’s criminal history when he served at a New Mexico base, as reported by The Washington Post’s Eli Rosenberg, Alex Horton and Mark Berman. He should not have been allowed to buy a gun because of his domestic-violence conviction in 2014.
Trump asserted Tuesday that tougher gun laws would have made “no difference three days ago.” He said “hundreds more” people would have died had another man not been able to “neutralize” the alleged killer with a gun of his own.
A month ago, a similar debate raged about “bump stocks,” a contraption that can be used to legally increase a rifle’s firing rate. Several rifles with bump stocks were found in the room of the shooter who opened fire on a concert crowd on the Las Vegas Strip last month from an upper hotel floor, killing 58 and injuring more than 500.
As The Post’s Aaron C. Davis, Beth Reinhard and Sari Horwitz reported, “the increasingly popular bump stock has allowed even novice gun-owners to easily modify a legal semiautomatic rifle into one that resembles a battlefield machine gun.”
After the Las Vegas mass shooting, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill specifically targeting bump stocks and similar inventions.
A month later, Lieu ended his moment of non-silence with a call to action, saying Congress should pass “reasonable gun safety legislation including a universal background check law.”
He told The Post that he got the irony of his predicament — that more people are listening to him because of his sharp tweets toward Trump.
“For whatever reason, in me tweeting, it has resulted in more people paying attention, and I do think that while I have this opportunity, I should try to affect sentiment while I can.”
He also sought to blunt criticism that skipping out on a congressional moment of silence was in some way disrespectful to victims. Not being silent, he said, was pretty much the point.
“I think the best way for me to honor victims of mass shooting is to try to prevent further mass shootings.”