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Demanding action on gun control, House Democrats stage sit-in

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More than 200 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives are staging a sit-in, including California Rep. Judy Chu. She talked to Take Two live from the House.

Demanding action on gun control, more than 200 Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives are staging a sit-in — including Southern California lawmakers such as Judy Chu, Adam Schiff, Janice Hahn and Tony Cardenas.

NPR has been keeping track of the protest at their Two-Way blog. KPCC spoke with SoCal representatives Schiff and Judy Chu earlier in the day.


Update 7:40 p.m.: Speaker moves to regain control of House

After recessing the House for most of the day and leaving Democratic members to protest for gun-control votes, Speaker Paul Ryan gaveled the House back into session at 10 p.m. ET.

NPR's Susan Davis reports he disregarded the Democrats' shouts of "no bill, no break" and "shame," to take votes on matters unrelated to guns. Then the House recessed again, and Democrats resumed their protest.


Update 5:30 p.m. Rep. Adam Schiff describes the sit-in from the House cloak room

The sit-in by House Democrats calling for a vote on stricter gun control following the mass shooting that left 49 dead in Orlando was organized by Rep. John Lewis, known for his work as a civil rights leader. Southern California Rep. Adam Schiff told KPCC that Lewis wanted to call attention to the need for a vote in "a very graphic way," with the piece of legislation being pushed the most being a law to keep people on the no fly list due to being suspect of terrorism from being able to purchase guns.

Schiff, speaking to KPCC from the House Democratic Cloakroom, said that the protest picked up steam throughout the day, going on for hours and serving as an unofficial filibuster to demand a vote.

"What people need to understand is that, in the House, unlike the Senate, the majority controls everything. They write the rules; if they lose a vote, they can rewrite the rules so that they can win the vote. They control every bit of procedure that takes place in the House, so that if they don't want to vote on something because they don't want to hold their members accountable on an issue like guns, for example, it never sees the light of day," Schiff said.

He described the actions being taken by House Democrats as "extraordinary measures" to put pressure on Republicans in order to get a vote. Schiff said that holding a vote would mean holding Republican members of Congress accountable, even if it doesn't pass, since they would have to take a position with their vote.

The Republican majority cut C-SPAN cameras, but Schiff said it hadn't kept House Democrats from getting their message out.

"They can literally cut off the mic, and they did, and they can cut off the C-SPAN cameras, and they did. But we're improvising. Someone is using an app called Periscope, and so it is being livestreamed, and that in turn is being now broadcast on C-SPAN," Schiff said.

As for how long the protest would last, Schiff said that he expected they would all follow Lewis's lead, along with what the rest of the Democratic minority leadership decides about how long it should last. Schiff said that they had already successfully called attention to what he called the "paralysis" in the House and the "political cowardice" of the other side.

Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank
Kitty Felde/KPCC
Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank

Schiff said that he was starting to see some change in how Republicans were looking at gun control.

"I do hear from some of my Republican colleagues increasing concern about being perceived as on the wrong side of this issue," Schiff said.

He added that it was particularly true of Republican members from districts that could be contested, with those Republicans feeling politically vulnerable. However, Schiff said those members would rather have the Obama administration take action on gun control itself rather than forcing members of Congress to deal with it.

Schiff said that members are trying to avoid a vote due to being intimidated by the National Rifle Association, with concern that the NRA could take them out in a Republican primary if they vote in favor of gun control measures.

If Democrats are successful in getting a vote and ultimately winning, Schiff said he hopes that would open the door for other "common sense" measures.

Schiff said that those arguing against gun control are making a slippery slope argument, as well as objecting to the lack of need for proof at a trial that someone is a terrorist to get placed on the list. However, Schiff said that didn't stop them from supporting the no fly list.

"It's not a very consistent position, but it shows more than anything else just how intimidated many of the members are to cross the NRA in any way," Schiff said.

Schiff said that he believes Angelenos support what he called "reasonable" gun control, noting also that the majority of NRA members support that no fly/no buy list and universal background checks.

"Even those [NRA] members recognize it's crazy to say that when you go into a K-Mart, or a Sears, or wherever, to buy a gun, they have to do a background check — but if you're denied, you can go into the parking lot of that same store and buy the same gun from someone off the back of his truck, and there's no need for the guy selling the gun off the back of his truck to do any kind of background check," Schiff said.

The NRA leadership continues to push its agenda so hard, Schiff said, that it intimidates members of Congress too much to pass gun control.

Schiff noted that not everyone was literally sitting on the floor — many were on the floor, some were in seats and others were going back and forth.

What fuels this protest? Pizza, of course. As Schiff spoke with KPCC, he said he was looking at a big stack of pizza that had just arrived, adding that their Senate colleagues had been sending over Pop-Tarts and other junk food to keep them going.

Update 11:34 a.m.: Chants of "No bill, no break"

When the House was gaveled back into session a little after noon, Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas who was speaker pro tempore at the time, was shouted down by members.

"No bill, no break," they chanted. The House is scheduled to break on Sunday, and before they go, Democrats are demanding a vote on two bills: One that bars anyone on the no-fly list from buying a firearm and another that broadens background checks for firearm purchases.

A prayer was said and members recited the Pledge of Allegiance, but once it became clear that regular business would not take place, Poe called for another recess.

AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said the House "cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution, so the House has recessed subject to the call of the chair."

Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, announced the sit-in earlier this morning.

"We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence — tiny little children, babies, students and teachers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, friends and neighbors — and what has this body done?" said Lewis, flanked by fellow Democrats. "Mr. Speaker: nothing. Not one thing."

Lewis' colleagues in the Senate held the floor for nearly 15 hours last week demanding much the same thing. Senate Democrats eventually succeeded in getting a vote, but all four gun control measures failed.

There is no live video of the demonstration on the floor because the cameras in the House are turned off once the chamber goes into recess.

Update 9:30 a.m.: Rep. Judy Chu: "We are fed up" 

“We are fed up and we want to make sure that there is something done about the unprecedented levels of gun violence in this country,” Chu told Take Two. 

She said since she joined the House in 2009, she's never seen anything like this before. 

“There is not a mechanism for a filibuster like there is in the Senate, so we are occupying the floor — actually, it is stopping the business of the floor and of the House and we are going to stay here until we get a vote for a bill,” Chu said. 

Speeches from various members of Congress have taken place during the sit-in, which has already been going on for hours. Chu said moving speeches from people like Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who was paralyzed by a bullet through his neck, and others on personal experience with gun violence are moving explanations on the need for reform.

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) lent KPCC's Kitty Felde her recipe for Christmas dumplings.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) lent KPCC's Kitty Felde her recipe for Christmas dumplings.

Chu said that she and her colleagues planted on the House floor are determined not to give up until they hear a response from Republicans. 

“People are saying ‘No more moments of silence. The moments of silence are over until we have some action.’ We need to do something, and if there is no bill then there should be no break,” Chu said. “We know that we will keep on going, we know that the American people are saying enough is enough." 

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