WASHINGTON (AP) — Rebellious Democrats disrupted the House’s legislative work on Wednesday, staging a sit-in on the House floor and refusing to leave until they secured a vote on gun control measures. Exasperated Republicans were forced to recess while cutting off the C-SPAN cameras that showed the protest.
A group of nearly 100 Democrats led by Georgia Rep. John Lewis demanded a vote on measures to expand background checks and block gun purchases by some suspected terrorists in the aftermath of last week’s massacre in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. It was the worst shooting in modern U.S. history.
“No bill, no break,” shouted Democrats, who demanded that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., keep the House in session through its planned weeklong recess next week to debate and vote on gun legislation.
Democrats accused Republicans of political cowardice by failing to schedule a vote.
“Are they more afraid than the children at Sandy Hook?” asked Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., referring to the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school children, in Newtown, Connecticut. “What is so scary about having a vote?”
Lewis, a veteran civil rights leader revered by Democrats, said action on gun violence is long overdue.
“We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence,” Lewis said as he urged fellow Democrats to stand with him in the area near the podium, known as the well.
“What has this body done” to respond to the violence, Lewis asked, then answered his own question: “Nothing. We have turned a deaf ear to the blood of innocents. We are blind to a crisis. Where is our courage? How many more mothers…and fathers need to shed tears of grief?”
About 30 minutes after the sit-in began, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, tried to start the House’s work at noon. The customary prayer and pledge of allegiance went ahead, but Poe was forced to recess the House when dozens of Democrats refused to leave the well.
Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said lawmakers were “calling for the simple dignity of a vote.” Joining the protest was Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who had waged a nearly 15-hour filibuster last week to force votes in the Senate on gun legislation. Those votes failed on Monday night.
Ryan said Wednesday that House leaders were “waiting to see what the Senate does before proceeding” on gun legislation, including a possible compromise being sought by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Larson and other Democrats cited polls showing broad public support for expanding background checks for firearms purchases and blocking suspected terrorists from buying guns.
“Rise up Democrats, rise up Americans,” Larson said. “We will occupy this chamber.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said, “We will not be shut up. We will not be shut down.”
The House was not in session when the Democrats began their demonstration. Republican leaders again ordered C-SPAN cameras turned off as the protest resumed Wednesday afternoon.
“They can turn off all the TV they want, but they can’t stop us from doing what we know is the right thing here in this well,” Larson said.
“I am willing to stay here until hell freezes over,” added Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
As the protest continued, lawmakers briefly sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.