Wingnut Week In Review: Sit-In Showdown

Terrance Heath

This week, House Democrats and Republicans faced off over reasonable gun laws. Democrats held a sit-in to force a showdown with Republican leadership. Republicans blinked.

If anyone in the House knows how to stand up to powerful opposition with moral strength, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) does. So it made sense that the civil rights legend would lead House Democrats in an old-fashioned direct action straight out of the civil rights playbook, to call attention to Republican leadership’s failure and outright refusal to bring reasonable gun control legislation to a vote in the wake of the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history, in Orlando, Florida.

Under House rules, the Rules Committee has absolute control over what makes it to the House floor. Over time it has become an extension of the House Speaker’s office, sending to the floor only those items on which the Speaker wants his members to vote. That means no gun-control votes on the House floor. So, Lewis led more than 130 Democratic members of Congress in a 25-hour sit-in on the House floor to demand action on gun control.

Democrats vowed to stay until Republicans allowed a gun-control vote on the House floor. Republican leadership did everything they could to make the whole thing go away. Republicans shut down cameras in the House, to keep Americans from even seeing the sit-in.

That failed when networks like C-SPAN and CNN made history by turning to social media feeds to cover the protest. When House members began posting footage of the sit-in on Facebook and Periscope, C-SPAN picked up on those feeds to offer continuous coverage.

Some Republican House members went so far as to embarrass themselves, with attempts to scold Democrats into ending the sit-in. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) took to Twitter to lecture Lewis on civil disobedience. “Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace,” Walker tweeted.

Lecturing a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairman who spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. on the day King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, and got his skull cracked by Selma’s finest on the Edmund Pettus Bridge should qualify Walker for a medal in “whitesplaining.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) stormed the House floor hours into the sit-in yelling “Radical Islam killed these people,” pointing at photos of the Orlando victims, as if a guy with a gun had nothing to do with it. Gohmert was handily shut down by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to stop it by holding votes anyway. Republicans suddenly stormed the Democrat’ sit-in on Wednesday night to, of all things, attempt to override President Obama’s veto of Republican resolutions to block the administration’s rule requiring financial advisors to act in their clients’ best interest, instead of steering them toward investments that enrich them instead of their clients. Guess which way Republicans leaned on that one.

Not only did the vote fail, as Republicans fell more than 40 votes short of the two-thirds majority they needed, but they were forced to step over their Democratic colleagues on the floor, shouting “No bill, no break” over the voting.

Republicans returned around 2:30am to vote on Zika prevention funding, and Ryan then attempted to end the sit-in by adjourning the House.

Meanwhile, Democrats were sustained inside the capitol building by a steady flow of donated care package.

And they were sustained by the protesters who gathered outside the Capital in support of gun control.

House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the sit-in as a “publicity stunt.” Well, of course it was. There’s nothing inherently wrong with publicity stunts. The Republicans held a similar sit-in for more oil in 2008. The problem Ryan and House Republicans now have is that this publicity stunt worked, and Democrats may have an effective strategy to get around the rules and force a debate on the last thing Republicans want to talk about.

Here’s the best of the rest of the worst in wingnuttery this week:

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