For now, it seems, the one lasting impact of House Democrats' 26-hour sit-in on gun control this summer is Republicans' desire to punish them for it.
But figuring out a way to do that without fanning the flames of the gun control debate — not to mention angering gun control advocates who are more and more willing to fight fire with fire — could be politically tricky.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has every incentive to make sure the minority party doesn't ever again seize the floor. There's no such thing as a filibuster in the House of Representatives; what happens on the House floor is supposed to be unilaterally within his team's control, and for 26 hours in June, it wasn't.
But any punitive measures Ryan takes could play into Democrats' hands.
Democrats have struggled to turn their sit-in into any meaningful action. No post-Orlando gun control legislation passed Congress this year. Democrats didn't win big at the ballot box, either: They only gained six seats in the House despite expectations of up to 20 pickups, and Republicans kept their majorities in Congress and historically large majorities in state governments, too.
Despite historic efforts by Democrats, gun control has largely faded from the national conversation. Until now.
Democrats are practically begging Ryan to do something. No punishment had been doled out Tuesday, and already some Democrats were acting as if they had been punished. Here's one of the leaders of the sit-in, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), on Monday:
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) December 26, 2016
No surprise, then, that Ryan has decided to go a more roundabout way that doesn't directly lay the blame on any lawmaker. We learned Tuesday that one of the first things on his to-do list in January is to pass a rule authorizing the House's top cop to levy a fine, up to $2,500, on any lawmaker who shoots video or takes photos on the House floor. This rule would apply to future breaches of action and enforce already existing rules about having phones on the House floor (you're not supposed to).
"These changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work," said his spokesperson, AshLee Strong.
But here, too, Ryan finds himself potentially backing into a corner: Democrats could actually claim this more mundane procedural move is unconstitutional.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office told Politico's Rachael Bade they are looking into whether such a rule passes muster under the Constitution. Bade spoke with several constitutional experts who said that giving a House officer the power to punish lawmakers could be cause for concern. (A long-accepted interpretation of the Constitution is that only the full House, via a vote, has the authority to punish a lawmaker.)
Ryan isn't singling out any one lawmaker for martyrdom, but the tweets and releases from Democrats and gun control advocates write themselves: “Republicans are trying to unconstitutionally punish us for their efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals!”
We should reiterate that you're already not supposed to take pictures or shoot video on the House floor. In fact, you're not even supposed to have your phone out on the House floor (though lawmakers frequently break that rule on an average day).
Live streaming became House Democrats' only option to broadcast their sit-in, since the C-SPAN cameras cut off shortly after their protest began. (And no, Republicans didn't directly cut the cord; the cameras are turned off as a matter of procedure when the House isn't in session, and Democrats essentially forced the House out of session by seizing the floor.)
The decision ended up being a great PR move for House Democrats. The shaky, grainy Periscope feed coming from lawmakers' phones only heightened national interest in the sit-in. As the sit-in headed into prime-time TV hours, the live stream was airing on nearly every major cable news channel. Ryan tried and failed several times to shut it down, with thousands on the Internet watching.
More than six months later, that chaotic moment feels like a distant memory. (Exit polling on how gun control factored into Americans' vote is scant, but it's notable the highest-ranking pro-gun-control candidate, Hillary Clinton, didn't win.)
Except here we are talking about it again.
Ryan has every reason to want to punish lawmakers who seized the floor. But in trying to put an end to what happened, Ryan also risks reviving it again.