U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, who was responsible for planning the 25-hour sit-in this week on the floor of the U.S. House, said it started after a chat with Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.
Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and the first president of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, discussed with Larson the various parliamentary actions they could take, but “most of them we’ve tried,” Larson said Friday at a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
According to Larson, Lewis said, “We have to do something that’s dramatic. We have to get in the way.”
Larson asked what Lewis was proposing and he said they needed a “sit-in.” He said he talked to all of his colleagues about Lewis’ idea and while they were skeptical, they were willing to give it a try.
“I was skeptical myself as to what outcome we could possibly achieve,” Larson said.
He admitted that it was a violation of the rules of the chamber and it was unclear where it might lead. The Republicans who control the House cameras and microphones shut them off and C-SPAN stopped recording the first hour or two of the sit-in, until it decided, in an unprecedented move, to pick up the video feed from members’ smartphones.
“We didn’t realize at the time that there were members who were more technically adept than me who were using their iPhones to stream,” Larson said. “In this day and age when the media is being told their credentials will be declined if they speak unfavorably about anyone, the number of them who came to our gallery, the number of foreign press who came to the gallery to witness what was happening, caught us by surprise.”
He said the sit-in only unfolded because of the technology that was getting it out of the chamber and back to social media, and then the press who swelled the galleries and stayed there.
But after 25 hours, the sit-in didn’t get them a vote on bills to expand background checks and to ban those on terror watch lists from purchasing guns.
Larson vowed to continue the fight to get a vote.
“We will not quit. We will not stop,” Larson said.
He declined to say whether they will resume the sit-in when the House reconvenes July 5. He said the most effective aspect of the protest was its “organic nature” and the fact that it wasn’t a scripted protest. The House adjourned two days earlier for their break as a result of the sit-in.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said they will “take to the field again” but it’s “premature” to say what form that action will take.
Larson pointed out that 174,000 calls came into the House operator during the rule-breaking action.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the sit-in a “political stunt.”
“We are not going to allow stunts like this to stop us from carrying out the people’s business,” Ryan said during his weekly press briefing Thursday.
He said they can collect 218 member signatures if they want to get a bill called.
Ryan also pointed out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is using it to increase its fundraising.
“If this is not a political stunt why are they trying to raise money off of it?” Ryan said. “This bill couldn’t even get 50 votes in the U.S. Senate, let alone 60.”
DeLauro said it’s “absurd” that they would be using this to raise money. She said they didn’t ask the DCCC to use it as a fundraising tool.
“Frankly, I wish they hadn’t,” Larson said.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said there have been 100,000 Americans who have died from gunshot wounds since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the House has not called on a vote on gun control bills.
“What kind of stunt is that?” Esty said.
Larson said they are trying to put public pressure on lawmakers who appear to be beholden to the National Rifle Association lobby.
DeLauro pointed out that lawmakers will be back in their districts and she hopes they will be held accountable by their constituents.
The sit-in follows U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster in the U.S. Senate, which led to votes even though those votes fell short of the majority they needed to get a debate.
Murphy said he’s not optimistic that the Senate will make much progress on the issue either.
“Part of the reason we wanted these votes, to be quite honest with you, is to put members on the record,” Murphy said. “So that their constituents can see where they stand.”
He said he thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has made it very clear he’s going to do the NRA’s bidding from now until the election and because of that Mitch McConnell may not be majority leader that the beginning of next year.”