House GOP launches inquiry into Democrats’ sit-in
WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Republican leaders are investigating whether the chamber should punish Democratic lawmakers for their hard-ball tactics last month during a 25-hour protest where they commandeered the floor and demanded action on gun control.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that leading Republicans were looking into allegations that Democrats intimidated floor staff to break the rules of decorum in the chamber simply to energize their supporters and line their coffers with campaign cash. McCarthy said that he and House Speaker Paul Ryan planned to meet Tuesday afternoon with Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, and top law enforcement official in the body.
“Before we look at any actions (against Democrats), we first have have to all the facts that are based on that … That’s what people are looking at right now,” McCarthy told reporters in his office suite Tuesday. “Right now, it’s more of an investigation.”
McCarthy added: “Members of Congress (need) to adhere to the rules and the decorum of what is expected of being on the floor.”
The controversy started last month in the aftermath of the deadly rampage at an Orlando nightclub, prompting Democrats to renew their long-standing push to tighten restrictions on firearms. Democrats demanded votes on two measures — one to expand universal background checks, the other to ban gun purchases to people on a terrorist watch list — but Republicans balked, citing concerns that the proposals would violate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
In response, Democrats, led by Georgia Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, led his party in a dramatic scene, where he and fellow Democrats occupied the chamber, chanting, giving speeches, singing and shouting — all to call for votes on gun legislation. Through an all-night session, House GOP leaders later scheduled votes on unrelated measures — over the heckling of Democrats — and gaveled the chamber closed for the Fourth of July recess.
During the protests, the House Democratic campaign committee sent out several fundraising solicitations, giving the GOP fodder that the move was rooted in politics.
Returning to session this week, there were signs that there would be more theatrics in the Capitol. Six people in the Capitol rotunda who were calling for gun control were arrested and charged with protesting in a non-demonstration area, according to Eva Malecki, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.
Seeking to intensify pressure on Ryan, Lewis and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut called on the speaker to meet with all House Democrats on the gun control issue. But Ryan refused, instead agreeing to meet with the two men Tuesday evening in the speaker’s office.
Speaking to Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes Tuesday, Ryan strongly criticized the Democrats’ tactics and suggested he would not allow votes on their measures.
“Part of this, I think, is a stunt,” Ryan said. “Part of this, I think, is a distraction away from the terrorism issue but also if we succumb under populism to reduce a person’s constitutional rights, then I believe as a member of Congress, I am violating my constituents to uphold the Constitution.”
Ryan said that the House would vote instead on different gun measures this week — one to help people with mental issues and another GOP plan to let the federal government investigate whether someone should be on a terror watch list before they are denied purchasing a firearm. The GOP plan is similar to one proposed by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, whose measure was blocked last month by Senate Democrats who said it would do little to deny terrorists the ability to get a gun.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, called the GOP plan a “meaningless bill written by the (National Rifle Association).”
“The lengths the House Republican leadership will go to follow the NRA’s marching orders know no bounds,” Hammill said.
On the floor, California Rep. Mike Thompson, chairman of the House Democrats’ task force on gun violence, said: “What is the majority so afraid of?”