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House Democrats End 26-Hour Sit-In Over Gun Control


A dramatic scene played out on Capitol Hill over the last day. At the heart of it, the issue of guns. Democrats in the House of Representatives staged a sit-in on the floor of the chamber demanding a vote on gun control.


It began late yesterday morning. They stayed through the night until early this afternoon when they joined protesters outside.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Oh, deep in my heart. I do believe we shall overcome someday.

SHAPIRO: During the sit-in, Republicans led by House Speaker Paul Ryan moved ahead on unrelated votes and eventually adjourned the House until after the July 4th holiday. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis joins us now to discuss this nearly 26-hour demonstration and what comes next. Hi there, Sue.


SHAPIRO: How significant and unusual has this last 24 hours been in the House?

DAVIS: It is a new era in terms of how lawmakers protest on the floor of the House. It is not a new idea that the minority party has commandeered the floor particularly when they're out of session to drive a message. What was so remarkable about this debate is how they did it.

Democrats used social media in a way that they have never done before to livestream these protests on Periscope, on Facebook Live, they Instagrammed, they took photos - all of which is violating the rules of the House. In some ways, it was an act of civil disobedience and when it comes to how the House is governed.

And this allowed them to create an audience for this message in a way that we've never seen before. I think it's what - it gave it an energy that we have not seen before. And it invigorated Democrats in the House in a - in the gun debate in a way we have not seen before. And part of that is about who led this debate.

One of the main organizers was John Lewis. He's a Democrat from Georgia. He is a civil rights icon. He's probably one of the most respected members of the House, and he equated this with the civil rights movement. And this added an incredible amount of emotion to the debate, and certainly a fair amount of political theater to the floor as well. And, as you heard outside and on the floor, at one point they would sing "We Shall Overcome" and they changed the words to say we shall pass a bill.

SHAPIRO: Well, when it wrapped up this afternoon had the protesters actually accomplished anything in terms of advancing legislation?

DAVIS: In short, no. You know, Democrats started the protests saying they weren't going to leave the floor until they got concessions on two pieces of legislation. They want votes on a bill that's commonly referred to as no fly, no buy. It would restrict certain individuals that the government is watching as suspected terrorists from buying guns. The other would expand background checks to certain sales. They didn't get concessions on either one of those.

There was this incredibly sharp contrast on the floor between what Democrats were doing and what Republicans were doing. Republicans essentially just stood down. They did not engage in this at all. You know, I kind of compared it to a parent who sees a child having a tantrum, and they just ignore them and let it run its course. If anything, Paul Ryan said that this wasn't about a gun debate. This was about Democrats who just wanted publicity, and he talked about that this morning. And this is what he had to say.


PAUL RYAN: They are not trying to actually get this done through regular order, no. Instead, they're staging protests. They're trying to get on TV. They are sending out fundraising solicitations like this one, House Democrats on the House floor. Your contribution will go to the DCCC, $15.

DAVIS: So the only reaction Democrats really got out of Republicans was it did force the majority to adjourn two days ahead of schedule and just try and shut down this debate. The House will be back on July 5, and John Lewis says they will continue these protest efforts then.

SHAPIRO: OK. NPR congressional reporter Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.