Democratic lawmakers vowed Thursday morning to continue their bold attempt to force votes in the House on gun control, even after Republicans formally adjourned for a long-scheduled recess.
Almost 24 hours after their protest began, a small band of Democratic lawmakers remained in the well of the House chamber, some wrapped in blankets and gripping paper coffee cups, lashing out at Republicans for rebuffing calls for a debate on guns by ending legislative business until after Independence Day.
âWeâre not taking a break from this effort,â House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told about a dozen colleagues after 7 a.m. âWe will not rest.â
Moments before, Pelosi had rebuffed the requests of a U.S. Capitol Police officer, who asked the lawmakers to briefly leave the chamber during a standard early-morning security sweep.
âWe wonât be able to do that,â Pelosi told the officer. âPerhaps later in the day.â
Later, as Pelosi spoke, officers entered the chamber and led a bomb-sniffing dog through the aisle.
By the time much of Washington woke up on Thursday, lawmakers had been holdingÂ vigil for nearly a day in what was a powerful and, some veteran lawmakers said, unparalleled attempt toÂ demand a vote on barring suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms by grabbing the spotlight on the House floor. The episode took on the cast of a civil rights sit-in, as it was led by Georgia Democrat John Lewis,Â the nearly 30-year House veteran whose blood was spilled during civil rights marches of the 1960âs.
âThank you for getting in trouble! Good trouble,â Lewis told colleagues Wednesday night.Â âSometimes by sitting down, by sitting in, youâre standing up.â
Later, the Georgia Democrat addressed about 150 supporters, who cheered on Democrats from the West Lawn outside the Capitol.
âBy standing here tonight, by standing with us, youâre bearing witness to the truth; you must never ever give up or give in or give out,â Lewis said. âWe got to stop the violence and do something about the proliferation of guns.â
House Democrats were responding to anger over the failure of lawmakers to pass anything â or in the House, even vote â on any kind of gun control measure.Â Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) described a âtipping pointâ where âpeople are sick of moments of silenceâ in the House and elsewhere.
The dramatic episode poses a big test of Rep. Paul Ryanâs (R-Wisc.) fledgling speakership. Previous speakers have had trouble controlling their own caucus and Ryan has done better, so far, on that score. But itâs unclear what kind of effect the image of Democrats seizing the floor, waving placards with the names of gun victims and delivering emotional speeches, will have on voters, who lawmakers will spend time with during the recess.
âWhat are the consequences?â of the inaction, Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), former chair of House Democratsâ campaign arm, told MSNBC. Â âTheyâre going to have to go home to their districtsâ¦and explain to their constituents why they werenât courageous enough to even bring a bill to a vote.â
Seemingly exasperated, Ryan dubbed the guerrilla protests a âpublicity stuntâ on Wednesday night before gaveling in the House around 10 p.m. for an unrelated vote.
Several hours later, the House GOP moved ahead with its package to fund the Zika virus response and moved to adjourn the chamber until July 5, which will effectively end the shutdown at some point soon.
Whether Democrats planned to continue their sit-in until the House formally reconvenes on July 5 or find a way Thursday to end the dramatic spectacle was unclear. Top Democratic leaders planned to convene later in the morning to confer about what to do, aides said.
House Democrats are seeking votes on two bills that they say would prevent suspected terrorists from buying firearms, similar to legislation rejected Monday by the Senate. But House Republicans have declined to hold votes on gun-control measures since retaking control of the chamber in 2011, only allowing a vote in 2013 to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms.
Following the 2012Â mass shootingÂ of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., a bipartisan gun-control measure was drafted in the Senate, but it failed to earn enough Republican votes to advance in April 2013.
Some of the bills rejected by senators this week mirroredÂ the proposed gun controlsÂ ofÂ three years ago. A bipartisan group led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been promised a vote on a potential compromise, and the group was working this week to secure enough support.
The House Democratic sit-in began at 11:29 a.m. Wednesday and included more than 100 lawmakers who squatted on the floor of the chamber or sat watching as colleagues recounted incidents of gun violence from their home districts. At several points they waved signs with the names of gun violence victims, or sang protest songs like âWe Shall Overcome.â
Television cameras normally used to broadcast chamberÂ proceedings went dark for most of the day, keeping with rules prohibiting live broadcasts when the HouseÂ is in recess. Scrambling to fulfill its duties as a nonpartisan chronicler of congressional affairs, C-SPAN â and other broadcasters later in the day â relied instead on video feeds from the smartphones of several lawmakers, who used Facebook and Periscope to beam the speeches to the world.
Throughout the day and into the night, Democrats claimed theyâd marked a tipping point in the emotionally fraught gun-control debate, while Republicans dismissed their moves as an unprecedented, indecorous political scheme.
In a heated scene, Ryan seized the gavel at 10 p.m. Wednesday to call a vote on an unrelated measure as Democrats began shouting, âNo bill! No break!â and âShame!â Ryan persisted by quickly yielding time to a Republican colleague who yielded back, allowing Ryan to launch a series of votes.
As members of both parties cast votes, Democrats continued shouting and waving signs.
Later, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) came to the floor and yelled at Democrats, telling them that they should talk instead about âradical Islamâ â a reference to Omar Mateen, the shooter in the June 12 mass killing of patrons at a gay nightclub in Orlando. During the massacre, he pledged solidarity with the Islamic State.
Democrats shouted back at Gohmert, saying that Republicans should hold a vote on gun control proposals. At one point Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) stepped in between Gohmert and some Democrats, saying later that he was afraid their shouting would result in a physical fight.
Ryan showed little inclination to meet Democratsâ demands, faulting them for trying to call votes on âa bill that already diedâ in the Senate.
âPeople have a guaranteed right to Second Amendment rights,â Ryan said in a CNN interview. âWeâre not going to take away a personâs constitutionally guaranteed rights without due process.â
The idea for the sit-in began with 15 Democratic members who gathered in Lewisâs office on Tuesday night, according to Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).
Initially, the group wanted to keep their plan a secret from leaders, but word leaked during the House Democratsâ weekly meeting on Wednesday morning. When Pelosi found out that Lewis was formally inviting people to join the protest, she endorsed the initiative, Yarmuth said. But there were no rules or strategy beyond that.
âWe wanted to keep it a little organic,â Yarmuth said. Grinning, he added, âItâs cool.â
Apart from the intensity of the speeches, the House floor had the atmosphere of an open-mic night.
The sit-in turned somber at times. At one point, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) offered a prayer. Other members sang the spiritual, âWe Shall Not Be Moved.â Late Wednesday, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) emotionally recounted her own personal history with gun violence. Rep. Beto OâRourke (D-Texas), who was one of those using his phone to stream the proceedings, told colleagues that the sit-in marked the proudest moment of his two terms in Congress.
On Thursday morning as rain poured from the skies, 12 people still stood outside the Capitol showing support for the lawmakers inside.