House Republicans Pass Zika Funding; Democrats' Sit-In Goes All Night

Jun 23, 2016
Originally published on June 23, 2016 7:48 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

House Democrats took over the floor of the House of Representatives overnight. This was in protest against congressional inaction on gun laws.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) No bill, no break, no bill, no break.

GREENE: Now, things mostly wrapped up there on Capitol Hill, though some Democrats were still lingering on the House floor when we spoke to NPR's Susan Davis, who was watching all of this all night long. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So how did this all come about yesterday and what was the scene like?

DAVIS: So this started shortly before noon on Wednesday when Democrats took Republicans by surprise and essentially took over the House floor. It was led by two Democrats in particular - John Larson from Connecticut and John Lewis from Georgia. Now, John Lewis is an icon of the civil rights movement. And he was sort of the spiritual leader of this on the floor today, likening what Democrats were doing to the civil rights movement and staging what they called a sit-in on the House floor where members quite literally sat on the House floor and blocked House Republicans from moving forward on any other legislation for going on 15 hours before there was a - finally a resolution. And that resolution was that House Republicans moved to just adjourn the House and get out of town.

GREENE: So normally when the House is in recess, I mean, the cameras are all shut down. There's nothing being shown to the TV audience. Is that what Democrats were trying to get passed here?

DAVIS: Yes. The cameras are controlled by the speaker of the House, and when the House is not in session, they never air what's happening inside the chamber. And in this situation, the Democrats did something really clever. They started to livestream the protest from their phones and essentially broadcast their own protest. And when they did that, it allowed C-SPAN and other networks to pick it up. And it really created an audience for this protest like we've never seen before.

GREENE: And is that what it was all about, making a display, getting an audience and sending a message to the country that gun control is important to Democrats? And was there anything specific that they wanted to get Republicans to sort of take up in terms of legislation from this?

DAVIS: Well, they'll say that they want two votes on two specific pieces of legislation. One is referred to as no fly, no buy, which is a proposal that would block certain individuals on government watch lists from buying guns. In other words, if you can't get on an airplane, you shouldn't be able to buy a gun. The other, it would expand background checks to private gun sales.

Now, these are both proposals we've heard a lot about before. The Senate earlier this week voted on them and couldn't pass them, which is why Republicans in the House said, look, this is a political exercise. These don't have the support to get through Congress. You're just making a publicity stunt. This is just a show so you can score political points.

GREENE: So all of this a total surprise to even many Democrats and I gather probably many reporters too who cover the Hill.

DAVIS: Well, that's true. You know, I came in this morning thinking that I was going to leave at 5. I didn't know that that meant 5 o'clock this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: But, you know, once we saw the Democrats were really dug in on this and were going to go through the night and there was going to be multiple votes, it was clear that people had to stay overnight. And, you know, they did succeed in one regard. They did get a response from Republicans. Republicans - the only way they could stop this protest was to literally shut down the House. And Congress will not return until July 5, and House Democratic leader said tonight when they adjourn the House that they would continue this fight when they get back.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR congressional reporter Sue Davis. Sue, hope you get some sleep. Thanks.

DAVIS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.