WASHINGTON — House Democrats are all but ruling out another “sit-in” protest over the Republican majority’s refusal to hold votes on increased gun control measures.
In June 2016, Democrats commandeered the House chamber and stalled Congress for nearly 24 hours by sitting on the floor and shouting. The “sit-in” was an attempt to protest House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to not hold a vote on a gun control bill that had previously failed in the Senate, shortly after the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack in Orlando.
But this time, as Democrats push for Republicans to drop pro-gun rights legislation and bring forth gun control bills for hearings and ultimately a vote, the “sit-in” is a method likely to be shelved.
California Rep. Linda Sanchez, who serves as the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters Tuesday that while the sit-in was good for their public image, it was ineffective on the legislative front. She noted penalties that rained down from the GOP leadership.
“Based on the overwhelming public response we got from the last sit-in, clearly it galvanised America’s attention on gun violence,” Sanchez said. “There have been issues with regards to complaints filed with the ethics committee for engaging in those sit-ins and rules of the House, which the speaker seems intent on enforcing.”
After some members’ campaign operations solicited donations during the 2016 sit-in, the ethics committee launched multiple inquiries. So far, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has been cleared while Michigan’s John Conyers is still under review.
“So I think at this point, probably not the best course of action for Democrats if want to continue to highlight our requests, which we think is a very reasonable one,” Sanchez added, noting Democrats’ request for a select committee to examine gun violence.
But Sanchez noted that not a lot of options are on the table other than to plead with the majority to hear their case.
“There are not a lot of legislative options that are available to us,” she said. “There are discharge petitions but we can’t seem to find profiles in courage on the Republican side to join us in those. Again, we have been unable to convince the majority who controls the agenda to even allow simple hearings on the issue.”
And privately reaching out to the GOP leadership has proved fruitless as well. California Rep. Mike Thompson, who chairs the House’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said Georgia Rep. John Lewis asked Speaker Ryan to “join the Democrats in a show of unity and a show of action,” but was told its overtly political nature was a nonstarter.
Democrats’ options are bleak on the issue of enacting stricter gun control laws, aside from pushing the public to bring them back into the majority in 2018. However, Sanchez said gun violence would not be a central tenant of the House Democrats’ midterm campaigns.
“Our agenda for the 2018 midterm is a better deal agenda talking about better jobs, better wages, and a better future for the American families,” Sanchez said. “That will be the framework that we discuss all other issues under, but first and foremost, it’s an economic agenda that speaks to the real needs of America’s working families. For some members, gun violence will be a platform that they will talk a lot about.”
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