Update 1:05 a.m.: As news reached Democrats on the House floor that the chamber was about to be gaveled into a last-minute, late-night session, members began shouting. "Are they going to shut us down?" one unseen member asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on a social media feed carried live by C-SPAN.
Within moments, a C-SPAN anchor informed viewers that the House was coming back into session — and with that, the network's cameras came alive, bringing anyone watching remotely sounds of chaos and chanting from the House floor, and a view that looked like this:
Update 12:40 a.m. As the sit-in edged from Tuesday into Wednesday, more video and social media apps made their first appearance on the House floor. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) was admonished for using FaceTime in the chamber, with the House sergeant-at-arms asking him to move his broadcast to the Democratic cloakroom. He relayed that news on CNN, via a video stream interview from his phone. The conversation included this exchange, which will probably be familiar to anyone who's ever FaceTimed:
LEMON: Tilt up a little bit.
ISRAEL: Say again?
LEMON: There you go. Perfect.
ISRAEL: There we go.
Some congressional Periscope feeds shorted out, leading to a flurry of unconfirmed speculation that House Republicans were trying to shut down Hill wifi (which, of course, wouldn't actually stop the streaming, though it might leave members bumping up against their monthly data limit.)
Update 12:05 am: The sit in is now moved past its 12th hour. C-SPAN continues to broadcast a Periscope feed of the proceedings because the House is not currently in formal session and, therefore, can't be broadcast via the House cameras. The House will go back into session between 12:30 and 1:3o a.m. Eastern time to hold votes, according to the Majority Whip's office.
A previous attempt by Speaker Paul Ryan to end the sit-in didn't turn out so well.
The original post, which explains why the cameras were off in the first place, follows:
It’s a politically convenient thing to imply — and House Democrats sitting on the floor of the House since 11:30 a.m. aren’t shy about implying it — that House Republicans shut off the normally unblinking eyes of the C-SPAN cameras to try to hide the Democrats’ sit-in demanding a vote on gun control.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) even accused House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) of doing it himself.
But that’s actually not the whole story. In fact, the cameras are turned off as a matter of procedure when the House isn’t in session — and the Democrats are essentially forcing the House out of session with their sit-in. It also seems worth noting that, when the tables were turned eight years ago and Republicans were doing a sit-in, both the cameras and the lights were also off.
So let’s put partisan politics aside and explain the real reason the C-SPAN cameras — the only cameras allowed in Congress — are off.
When the new Congress got together in January of last year, like every new Congress before it, it voted on the rules that would govern it.
One of those rules — ostensibly not that controversial at the time — was that when the House of Representatives wasn’t in session, the C-SPAN cameras would be off. C-SPAN is useful for capturing a lot of moments the American public might not otherwise see, but no need to broadcast an empty room, right? (Side note: As even approving rules for C-SPAN’s filming indicates, Congress controls what the cameras show and when.)
Fast forward to Wednesday, when the House was just about to go out of session for the afternoon. House Democrats, led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), seized the floor and demanded a vote on gun-control measures. They literally sat down on the carpeted floor to demand a vote and said they’d stay there as long as it took to negotiate one.
D.C. perked up. We turned to C-SPAN. And C-SPAN had nothing to offer us.
That’s because House Republicans presiding over the floor at the time gaveled the Congress on a break as the sit-in started. There was clearly a disruption going on, and they weren’t sure what to do. (The House isn’t like the Senate, where one lawmaker can force it to stay in session for hours and hours.) So the House went on recess, and per the rules, the C-SPAN cameras shut off.
Even congressional reporters, the people who cover the mundane ins and outs of House proceedings, were confused.
C-SPAN felt compelled to issue this statement via Twitter. It even pinned it to the top of its Twitter profile, meaning it's the first tweet people see when they visit its page. A yellow alert now runs on the bottom of the screen: “CAMERAS IN CHAMBER CONTROLLED BY HOUSE.”
House Democrats began broadcasting their sit-in on Periscope, a feature most definitely not available the last time a sit-in occurred, back in 2008. (Also technically against House rules — no devices allowed on the floor.)
Back then, House Republicans staged a sit-in as Congress was about to go on a month-long August break. They wanted Democrats, who were then in the majority, to allow a vote to expand oil and gas drilling to help alleviate $4-a-gallon prices.
During that sit-in, as Politico reported — and Ryan’s office felt compelled to point out — House Democrats actually turned off the lights in the chamber, too.
“Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democrats adjourned the House, turned off the lights and killed the microphones, but Republicans are still on the floor talking gas prices,” wrote Politico’s John Bresnahan.
(The only other sit-in since the 1970s that political scientist and Catholic University professor Matthew Green could recall before that, in 1995, was over a budget dispute. Sit-ins are a pretty rare phenomenon.)
Back to Wednesday’s sit-in: Sure, Ryan technically could gavel back in session to get the cameras rolling again. But that’s not really within the realm of political reality; House Democrats are actively working against his interests, both politically and policy-wise.
A few hours after the sit-in began, the cameras did flash on when the GOP gaveled back in and made one futile attempt to restore order. They essentially asked the Democrats to stop their sit-in and go back to the day’s business. Democrats refused, even yelling over the speaker. And the House gaveled back out.
Per House rules, the C-SPAN cameras went dark again. And they’ve stayed that way for the rest of the sit-in.
Lawmakers started filming the action on Periscope again. And in a weird, full-circle moment, C-SPAN started airing the Periscope feed — apparently a first for C-SPAN.