For those who believe watching Congress is always boring and monotonous, yesterday’s developments – followed by additional drama in the early hours of this morning – offered powerful proof to the contrary.
Revolt in the House of Representatives turned raucous overnight, with protesting Democrats shouting down Speaker Paul Ryan’s attempts to restore order during a gun-control protest that stretched into its 18th hour.Earlier, Republicans branded the move as a publicity stunt before summarily adjourning the chamber until after the Fourth of July.
Note, the GOP-led House was supposed to be in session, doing actual work, today and four days next week ahead of the holiday break. But Republican leaders, unsure what to do about the Democratic sit-in and unwilling to schedule a vote on possible gun reforms, decided they no longer saw any point to sticking around.
Exasperated, House Speaker Paul Ryan took his House and went home. What will happen when the chamber reconvenes on July 6 is unclear, but Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who helped lead yesterday’s protest, told the Washington Post, “We will continue to fight…. When we come back in July, we’ll start all over again.”
But to fully appreciate the scope of yesterday’s drama, it’s important to note how Republican leaders tried to end the Democratic protest.
Around 10 p.m. (ET), the Speaker had apparently seen enough – the sit-in began about 11 hours earlier – and he brought up an unrelated measure for a vote. But not just any unrelated measure: Ryan pushed a bill that would have blocked the Obama administration’s “fiduciary rule,” which improves investment safeguards for consumers.
Let that sink in for a moment. In the face of the deadliest mass shooting in American history, House Democrats demanded a debate on possible gun reforms, to which House Republicans responded with a favor for Wall Street lobbyists.
Historian Kevin Kruse joked last night, “House Dems stage a sit-in for gun control and the GOP pushes it aside to repeal Wall Street regulations? Even [Aaron] Sorkin would think that was too much.”
And yet, real life is often stranger than fiction.
The vote also had the unintended effect of undermining the principal Republican talking point: that Democrats were wasting time on a “stunt” that detracted from real work the House would have otherwise tackled. NBC News’ Luke Russert, for example, talked to Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) yesterday afternoon, and the far-right congressman complained that the sit-in meant members of Congress were “blocking the important legislative work that we do here.”
Soon after, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) added, “There’s important legislation to move,” and Dems were preventing that from happening.
Ordinarily, I might be sympathetic to the argument that lawmakers should focus on constructive policymaking, but the day before the sit-in, House Republicans spent time debating “Obamaphones.” Last night, the GOP majority, unwilling to consider any changes to gun laws, devoted time to weakening investment safeguards for consumers (the bill failed).
The House Democratic protest may have been intended, at least in part, to raise awareness and generate attention for a good cause, but it’s not as if House Republicans were using the chamber’s time wisely, pursuing worthwhile policy goals.
Maybe the folks who held several dozen votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act should steer clear of lectures about wasting congressional time?