Dems occupy the House floor as gun vote drama flares again

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

A week ago, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., made news by standing on his feet in a filibuster about guns for nearly 15 consecutive hours.

And on Wednesday and Thursday, House Democrats made news by sitting down.

There is no filibuster provision in the House of Representatives. But Democrats figured out a way to sidetrack House business and demand a vote on gun legislation.

Democrats sat on floor of the House. Not in the permanent chairs arrayed around the chamber. But on the blue carpeting. In the well of the chamber, below the dais.

They sat like elementary school students, crowding around the teacher for story hour.

This was a sit-in. A demonstration. An occupation.

Only by Democratic members of Congress.

And it wasn’t Zuccotti Park where demonstrators spawned the Occupy Wall Street movement in September 2017. It wasn’t the Royal Ice Cream Parlor in Durham, N.C. where the “Royal Seven” carried out a sit-in before facing arrest.

This was the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol.

The issue was guns. Specifically a vote to bar prospective terrorists on the no-fly list from acquiring firearms.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., came to floor to join her colleagues in solidarity. She then led a press event on the House steps alongside the victims of gun violence.

“Members are heartbroken about the issue,” Pelosi said. “There is a spark that has happened since Orlando.”

How long would Democrats hold the floor over firearms?

“It will last as long as it needs to,” Pelosi said.

There’s precedent for House members squatting on the floor when the House is out of session.

In August 2008, House Republicans conducted rump sessions in the chamber each day to protest energy policy amid what were then soaring energy prices.

The protests in 2008 and now appear to violate House Rule IV:

“The Hall of the House shall be used only for the legislative business of the House and for caucus and conference meetings of its Members, except when the House agrees to take part in any ceremonies to be observed therein,” reads the rule.

Still, that didn’t stop Democrats. And didn’t stop the Republicans in 2008.

“Drill baby, drill” was the mantra of the GOP then. Republicans excoriated then- Speaker Pelosi for “locking the door” and “turning out the lights.”

“This is the people’s House,” thundered then- Rep. Thad McCotter, R-Mich. “This is not Pelosi’s politburo.”

The problem with that argument is that the House actually voted to adjourn for August to accommodate the Republican and Democratic conventions that year. The House itself controls television and audio of floor debate. But if the House isn’t actually in session, officials switch off microphones and cameras.

Most people couldn’t track the ruckus on the floor in 2008 as Republicans appeared in shifts to conduct “faux” sessions about energy and declare that Americans were now forking out “the Pelosi premium” for fuel. But things are different in 2016. Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas; Scott Peters, D-Calif.; and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., streamed the Democrats’ grievances to the world via Periscope and Facebook.

This, too, violates House rules.

Ryan finally brought the House into session at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday. Democrats hectored Ryan as he proceeded calmly with business on the floor. Ryan had to rap the gavel loudly several times and yelled over the top of the Democrats’ protestations. But Ryan generally ignored the Democrats.

The House lurched into a series of roll call votes that had nothing to do with firearms. House Democrats then began singing “We Shall Overcome,” a civil rights era anthem. They replaced one lyric with the line “We will get a vote …”

Republicans made a point of not going over the top to enforce the rules and planned not to haul Democrats out of the chamber. Some protested to House Republican leaders, wanting them to strictly enforce rules of decorum.

“We are not going to let them deny our ability to do the people’s business,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

That would be a Zika funding measure.

Democrats brayed some more. With zero debate, the House okayed the final Zika bill, 239-171, with only six Democrats voting yes.

And Republican members then hustled toward the exits at 3:10 a.m. ET. The House was done with no business scheduled until July 5.

At 3:36 a.m. ET, Democrats observed the after-hour departure.

“They snuck out of Washington in the dark of night,” suggested Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.

Beside Cicilline stood Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Lewis was a civil rights figure and helped engineer the sit-in.

“Today we made progress. We have come a distance,” declared Lewis.

Lewis said he had to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge “three times” before he had completed the march to Selma, Ala. The Georgia Democrat suggested this was the first step on firearms.

“We have other bridges to cross. And when we come back in July, we start it all over again,” intoned Lewis.

It’s unclear if Democrats will ever score their vote on guns. But if they do, they’ll have achieved it sitting down.

Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.