The floor rebellion could mark a turning point for the House — and set a risky precedent for future fights.
(Politico) – House Democrats’ 24-hour gun-control protest marks a turning point in Congress as a major escalation in minority battle tactics, lawmakers in both parties said Thursday — and a move that brings fundamental risks for the institution.
Already rank-and-file Democrats, energized by nationwide publicity and praise they received for occupying the House floor over demands for a gun vote, are saying they’ll likely use the same strategy again.
Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, for example, thinks a sit-in demonstration could force Republican leadership’s hands on what she called “economic justice issues,” like the minimum wage. And Maxine Waters of California said at the end of the protest Thursday that she would be ready to seize the House floor again over the gun matter when lawmakers return from their July 4 recess.
“It’s a new day in Washington; it’s a new way to fight,” said Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley on the House floor in the wee hours of Thursday morning. The New York lawmaker elaborated in an interview on the House steps a few hours later: “The American people want and expect the House to do something, and they’re not just going to take silence anymore. We’re going to get in the way until we see action.”
The escalation of confrontation on the House floor is a risky gamble though. Privately, a number of more senior Democrats worry what this might mean for them if and when they seize back the House. They remember what it was like to be in the majority, and they fear Republicans someday could turn the tables and use the shut-down-the-House ploy against them — just as they did to Speaker Paul Ryan Wednesday.
The sit-in was mainly rank-and-file idea — Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her No. 2 Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) didn’t lead the effort or come up with the idea, although they joined the protesters on the floor and praised their colleagues.
Some Democrats are saying their caucus should only use the tactic sparingly so as to not overplay their hand.
“I don’t think it’s something you want to over-utilize,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be used except for in extraordinary circumstances. It will continue to be an important method of continuing to demand a vote on the gun issue, but I’d surprised to see it utilized in all but the most extraordinary circumstances.”
Ryan, whom Democrats booed on the House floor during the sit-in, blasted the new tactic as a political stunt that sets a dangerous precedent for House decorum.
“I do worry about the precedent here,” he told reporters Thursday. “I have an obligation as speaker of the House to protect this institution. We are the oldest democracy in the world. … And so when we see our democracy descend in this way, it is not a good sign.”
Ryan said he was no stranger to being jeered and mocked, noting his appearances at the Iowa State Fair soapbox — the notorious political Q&A spot where Hawkeye State residents grill politicians — and criticism he received during contentious Wisconsin recall elections.
But the same peppering on Capitol Hill crossed a line, he said.
“That I am used to, but on the House floor? No. On the House floor we have rules, order and a system where democracy is supposed to work itself out in a deliberative and respectful way,” he said. “We watched a publicity stunt, a fundraising stunt, descend an institution that many of us care a great deal about.”
The new strategy also opens up the risky possibility that smaller groups could also seize the floor and stop all legislative business. Wednesday’s sit-in was supported by virtually all House Democrats, but smaller subsets could try to stage their own protests in the future.
And while many around the nation applauded the left for staging their demonstration on the House floor — particularly because public opinion favors their pitch to expand background checks and block gun purchases for suspected terrorists — a smaller, less popular issue would likely have a different outcome and tone.
Lawmakers who find themselves virtually powerless in the House minority, however, don’t have much to lose. Still, Democrats who cheered the strategy didn’t think it would be problematic for them when they Republicans were in the minority. But others privately admitted it absolutely would be — someday.
Even members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — which drove out ex-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and is known for forcing GOP leadership’s hand on hot topics — thought Democrats stepped out of bounds. Co-founders Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) sat together in the House chamber to watch the protest during the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Meadows said they were unacceptable and didn’t believe his group of fellow conservatives would start echoing the Democratic strategy.
“I don’t ever see this type of demonstration ever being used by the House Freedom Caucus,” he told POLITICO. “It’s counter to regular order and rules. Our emphasis has been on preserving the rules to protect the rights of the minority interest, and to suggest that this is appropriate goes against all that we stand for and espouse.”
Some Democrats said they better get used to it.
“There’s a consensus that when we come back, it’s not going to be business as usual — we’re not going to roll over,” said Jim McGovern (Mass.), a House Rules Committee Democrat who helped the left muddle through the wonky floor procedures during the “sit in.” “We’re fed up with being treated so terribly, being locked out of everything and having our views not respected. So whether it’s more ‘sit ins’ or whether it manifests itself in other ways, we’re not going to take it anymore.”
“Absolutely,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) when asked at the Hill gun control protest whether they’d take the floor again. She said the partisanship of this day and age has pretty much forced them to become more aggressive.
“It used to be that you disagreed but you’d compromised and you’d moved forward,” she said. “Now this has been just sort of been a block.”
“We’re a different party today. We closed them down,” she added, proudly.
Waters said the House would definitely press repeat should Republicans continue to refuse a vote on their bill to bar terror suspects from purchasing guns. DeLauro, meanwhile, said that as a grass-roots cheerleader, there was “nothing like making our voices heard and standing up.”
She started tick-tocking a series of economic issues that she believed were “the single biggest issue people face”: “minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, paid sick days and paid leave.” And asked whether she’d want Democrats to do a sit-in over those, she answered in the affirmative.
“Yeah — why not?” she said. “The minority has to fight back, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”
Others took a more measured approach.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), when asked whether Democrats would turn to the sit-in for other topics, waved away the thought.
“Right now, we own this [gun] issue and we’ll be carrying this forward,” she said. Democrats, she added, would continue to press Republicans on the matter. “[T]his is just getting started. I don’t’ know if that [the sit-in] will be the strategy. But you’re going to see a lot of activity with the groups … We’ll be mobilizing our districts and putting pressure on Republicans directly. I’m not sure the shape but I can assure you we won’t quit until we win.”