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An inside look at congressional Democrats’ sit-in to urge gun vote

Democratic representatives took to the floor of Congress Wednesday for an all-night sit-in, demanding a vote to prohibit people on the “no fly” list from purchasing firearms. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on the protest, and Judy Woodruff talks to one of the sit-in’s organizers, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., about the necessity of the congressional standoff.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, first: It was a rare night and morning in congressional history.

    Democrats staged an all-night sit in, demanding a vote on plan to ban anyone on the government’s terrorist no-fly list from buying a gun.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    House Democrats emerged from the Capitol in the early afternoon, giving up their 26-hour sit-in. They vowed to keep fighting for gun control measures after the July 4 break.

  • REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), Georgia:

    When we come back here on July the 5th, we’re going to continue to push, to pull, to stand up, and, if necessary, to sit down.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The scene outside was nearly as raucous as the one that played out yesterday and overnight inside.

  • MAN:

    The chair declares the House in recess at the hour of 12:00 noon.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    As Republicans recessed, triggering an automatic shutdown of the official House cameras, Democrats took to social media to broadcast the back-and-forth on the floor from their cell phones.

  • CONGRESS:

    No bill!

  • CONGRESS:

    No break!

  • CONGRESS:

    No bill!

  • CONGRESS:

    No break!

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    10:00 p.m.: House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to regain control over Democrats’ chanting.

  • REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), Speaker of the House:

    The House will be in order.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    But order wasn’t coming. The House cameras again went dark.

  • MAN:

    The House stands in recess.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Democrats kept sitting and standing on the floor, until Republicans returned to a formal session again at 2:30 a.m., and not just any session. GOP leaders called for a big vote on a bill that included a billion dollars to fight the Zika virus. It passed without debate.

  • MAN:

    The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    And Republicans closed out the session until after July 4.

  • MAN:

    The House stands adjourned.

    Speaker Ryan, facing this new test, had biting words for Democrats today.

  • REP. PAUL RYAN:

    We are not going to allow stunts like this to stop us from carrying out the people’s business. Why do I call this a stunt? Well, because it is one. Let’s just be honest here.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Why a stunt?

    Ryan pointed out that Democrats sent multiple fund-raising e-mails and flyers about the sit-in. He said it wasn’t a proud moment for democracy. But Democrats point out that, eight years ago, then-minority Republicans also held the House floor in protest. One key difference? No cell phone video streaming then.

    As the House closed with no action, there was a symbolic, but important vote about the no-fly list on the Senate side. A bipartisan plan from Susan Collins of Maine would ban gun purchases from those on the terror watch list. It survived a procedural vote, getting support from 52 senators. The issue for the Collins plan? It will likely need 60 votes, which it doesn’t have, to make it out of the Senate.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And joining me now from Capitol Hill is one of the Democrats who helped organize the sit-in in the House. He’s Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

    Congressman, welcome to the program.

    First of all, did you get any sleep at all last night?

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), Rhode Island:

    I did not.

    I actually haven’t pulled an all-nighter since college, so, after this show, I’m going to go home and go to bed.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Why did Democrats make what was, if not an unprecedented move, as we just heard, close to unprecedented?

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

    Well, I think it was unprecedented.

    We have been incredibly frustrated at the Republican House leadership’s refusal to bring to the floor two very commonsense gun safety proposals, one to keep suspected terrorists who are on the watch list, to prevent them from buying a gun, and universal background checks to make sure that everyone that purchases guns has a background check.

    And these with are two commonsense proposals. The Republican leadership in the House has refused to bring these bills to the floor. And we have been incredibly frustrated. And we thought it was important to try something new to bring attention to this issue, to demand that the Republicans bring these bills to the floor for a vote, to bring the attention of our country to this issue.

    We just saw an event, the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States in Orlando, Florida, 49 people slaughtered by an assault weapon, 52 people injured. And we seem to see this kind of carnage on a regular basis.

    And, so far, the Republicans have been unwilling to bring a single bill to the floor that would respond to it. And we felt this was really important to try something different, to demand that they move forward on these. And this was the beginning of what will be a protracted effort to really encourage and convince and persuade and ultimately force our Republican colleagues to address this issue and make our communities safer.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But if you don’t have the numbers, how do you do that? I heard Speaker Ryan say today it actually did come up for a vote in committee. It just didn’t pass out of committee in order to get to the floor.

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

    Well, both of the proposals, the proposal to make sure that terrorists can’t buy a gun and to make sure there are universal background checks, are supported broadly by the American people, 85 percent and 90 percent. That includes Republicans and Democrats and independents. So, the American people support this.

    And what was most gratifying about last night is, we had a huge crowd outside the Capitol that was growing throughout the night, ordinary Americans that had come to Washington, to the Capitol grounds to support our effort.

    This is going to require the outside engagement of folks all across this country to demand that Congress do what they think needs to be done to keep them safe. This is one of the issues where the American people are with us. We have got to keep them engaged in this fight and finally convince Republicans that they have a responsibility to move forward and keep individuals who are on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun, make sure that all gun sales are subject to a background check, and really continue to engage with people all across this country to demand that leaders in the Republican Party bring these bills to the floor for a vote.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But do you really think you are going to be able to do that?

    I mean, for example, are there any Republicans who have come to you or any of your Democratic colleagues and said, I’m changing my mind?

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

    Well, I think there are Republicans who heard from their constituents last night, and I think, as they go home for break — imagine, in the middle of this argument, we’re asking them, let’s debate these bills. Tell us why you oppose them. Tell us why you think people on the terrorist watch list should be able to buy a gun. Tell us why you don’t think there should be universal background checks.

  • They wouldn’t come to the floor and debate those. Of course, there is no good argument against either bill. But what they did was, at 2:

    30 in the morning, in the dark of night, while America slept, they used a procedural maneuver to adjourn.

    But they’re going to have to go home. And they’re home now. They are going to hear from their constituents, who I expect are going to say, you need to pass some commonsense gun safety legislation, so that, when we come back on July 5 and we resume our efforts, they will have heard from their constituents.

    And look, this is going to be a long struggle, but I am confident, at the end of this, we will persuade our colleagues to do what’s right for the American people and prevent people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun, make sure we have universal background checks, both things which can really make our communities safer and keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What do you — what’s your reaction to Speaker Ryan’s comment that this is just a stunt designed to get Democrats in front of the TV cameras?

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

    Well, look, despite the fact that Speaker Ryan turned off the cameras, shut off our microphones, we’re not going to be silenced.

    We were able to use social media and Periscope to make sure that the American people could see this debate, despite the fact that the Republicans didn’t want them to see it.

    But, look, I think if you speak to any of the family members who lost loved ones in Orlando, any of the parents of the children slain in Sandy Hook or Umpqua Community College or San Bernardino or Aurora, there’s nothing that’s a stunt about this.

    This is about gun violence, which is an epidemic in this country, which is ripping families apart, which is a really serious public health crisis in this country. And we have a responsibility to fight hard to enact the proposals that will reduce gun violence in this country.

    And we’re going to use everything at our disposal, every tool that we have to continue to press hard to force the Republicans to take up these issues. The American people are demanding it. They expect us to do something. And I can assure you, for the families and victims of gun violence in this country, they don’t think this was a stunt.

    They were pleased that we were in this fight trying to ensure their voices were heard in the Congress of the United States.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you expect there will be more sit-ins?

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

    I expect we’re going to do lots more to force the Republicans to finally meet their responsibility and enact responsible gun safety legislation.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who spent much of last night literally sitting on the House floor, thank you very much.

  • REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we do hope to hear from Republican lawmakers in the coming days.

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