WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Democrats wrested control of the national spotlight Wednesday, leading a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, chanting over Speaker Paul Ryan, all for gun control — one of the most intractable issue in Congress.
And even with the sit-in’s end Thursday afternoon — without action on gun control — the fight over the issue isn’t over, Democrats say.
Democratic lawmakers, some working on just a few hours of sleep, said that they were invigorated by the protest and had found a way to break through on an issue which has perpetually stalled inside Congress.
“I could show you the text messages, the Facebook messages, tweets, and all forms of social media from people who aren’t just saying, ‘This is an issue, we need you to deal with it,’ but are saying, ‘Thank you for finally setting the agenda!’ ” said Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat. “This was the only way for us to do it.”
Veteran Democrats said they felt empowered by the demonstration, and it could become a new routine.
“It’s going to be clear: No business as usual,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat. “I think, and I hope, that Speaker Ryan will reconsider.”
Fueling the Democrats in no small part is the overwhelming public support for changing the country’s gun laws. A CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed support for tighter gun control laws increased 9 percentage points after the Orlando terror attack, and support for background checks and other measures being debated in the Senate hovered around 90%.
And support for specific gun control measures was very strong: 85% of voters said they support banning people on federal watch lists from buying guns. Among Republicans, that number is even higher — 90% say they favor preventing people on the terror watch list or “no fly” list from buying a gun. That number is at 85% for Democrats.
Despite all that, just more than 24 hours after it began, the steam was let out of the moment, as many of the Democrats headed home without the gun votes they said they must have. Instead, they were set on seeing through plans to continue their protests in home districts with just a small group continuing to protest on the otherwise vacant House floor.
And Republicans appear unmoved by the amount of attention called to the sit-in, just as they are but the poll numbers. The chaotic scene of representatives pouring to the front of the House, yelling as Ryan pounded away at the gavel had been wiped away by a swift, and decisive maneuver by House Republicans, ramming their own legislation through late at night and effectively closing the House down until July 5.
House Republicans avoided removing Democrats at the height of the sit-in — a move that would have been a political disaster as the protest was streamed live via social media on national television — with their cool and swift parliamentary maneuvering.
But Ryan hinted Thursday that the next response may not be so cool, if Democrats kept up their protests, saying Republicans were examining “everything” should they return to more chaos.
“We are not going to allow stunts like this to keep us from carrying out the people’s business,” Ryan said Thursday.
He then lit into Democrats, holding up the fundraising plea sent at the height of the sit-in.
“They are sending out fundraising solicitations, like this one,” Ryan said. “If this is not a political stunt, then why are they trying to raise money off this? ”
The 25-hour sit-in, which bested Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster, capped two weeks hand-wringing, finagling and partisan gridlock which typically embraces Congress after mass shootings.
Just a few days earlier, a quartet of gun measures failed in the Senate. And a fifth, bipartisan compromise to ban purchases for suspected terrorists, failed after the National Rifle Association came out against it.
And gun legislation still appears to be one issue doomed to partisan gridlock inside Congress — gun control supporters would have to hold 60 seats in the Senate and flip more than 30 seats in the House in November to have any hope of passing legislation.