- Win McNamee/Getty Images
Congressional Democrats who staged a sit-in on Wednesday on the House floor said that they would not leave until Republicans allowed a vote on gun-control legislation proposed in the wake of the Orlando terrorist shooting.
“We don’t have any intention of leaving anytime soon,” Rep. John Lewis, who led Democrats in the sit-in, told CNN.
The move has forced House Speaker Paul Ryan into a bind: Offer to hold the vote, or forcibly remove lawmakers from the chamber.
House rules leave the authority of much of the building and services within the speaker’s control. The speaker has authority over video broadcast in the chamber, which the House turned off after a recess was called.
The rules allow the speaker to clear the House, an order that the sergeant-at-arms executes.
From the rules:
“The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum and, in case of disturbance or disorderly conduct in the galleries or in the lobby, may cause the same to be cleared.”
“Except as otherwise provided by rule or law, the Speaker shall have general control of the Hall of the House, the corridors and passages in the part of the Capitol assigned to the use of the House, and the disposal of unappropriated rooms in that part of the Capitol.”
Indeed, Democrats appeared ready to be forcibly removed if Ryan refused to hold a vote.
Rep. Gwen Moore tweeted that she was more than willing to be arrested for the House sit-in:
— Gwen Moore (@RepGwenMoore) June 22, 2016
It was unclear which path Ryan would take if House Democrats did not end their sit-in voluntarily. The Huffington Post reported that Democrats planned to virtually hijack the House floor until a scheduled recess later this week.
A top House Republican aide told Business Insider that leadership was mulling different options, while other reporters noted that House leadership was waiting to see how Democrats proceed.
But later Wednesday evening, Ryan denied that he would bring a vote to the floor, asserting that House Democrats’ bill barring individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying weapons could be unconstitutional.
“This is nothing more than a publicity stunt,” Ryan told CNN. “This bill was already defeated in the United States Senate.”
“They know that we will not bring a bill that takes away a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights without their due process.”
The type of sit-in that Democrats were holding is fairly rare.
- Thomson Reuters
As The Washington Post noted, House members have staged only two such protests on the floor in the past several decades. Democrats took to the floor for an extended protest during a budget battle in the 1970s, while Republicans staged a protest to expand oil drilling in 2008.
The House sit-in came a week after Sen. Chris Murphy launched a 15-hour filibuster on the House floor, calling for greater gun-safety measures.
Earlier this week, the Senate rejected a series of gun-safety bills, including new measures that would have updated the background-check system for buying weapons, as well as a proposal that would’ve barred individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying weapons.
Some Senate Republicans are currently rallying behind a narrower gun-control bill spearheaded by Maine Sen. Susan Collins that would prevent people on the watch list from buying guns.