WASHINGTON — House Democrats ended their unorthodox sit-in at the Capitol to demand votes on gun-control bills after 25 hours Thursday, and vowed to keep up the pressure on the Republican majority when Congress reconvenes in July.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the veteran civil-rights leader who began the sit in at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and called it off at about 1 p.m. Thursday, predicted Democrats would eventually win the struggle that the protest began.
“We got it out there. We got in the way. We must never give up or give in,” said Lewis, surrounded by some of the 170 Democrats in the protest, including Reps. Steve Israel of Huntington, Gregory Meeks of St. Albans and Kathleen Rice of Garden City.
“And we must come back here on July 5 more determined than ever before,” Lewis said.
Afterward, Democrats went outside to thank a crowd of gun-control activists for their support and joined in singing the civil-rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” with a new verse beginning “We shall pass a bill.”
But House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stood firm against the Democrats’ gun bills. “We are not going to allow stunts like this to stop us from carrying out the people’s business,” he said.
Speaking to reporters, Ryan condemned the sit-in as a publicity stunt, a fundraising tool and a violation of House rules. “When we see our democracy descend in this way, it is not a good sign, it is not a good precedent,” he said.
Ryan said he would not consider the bill backed by Democrats and sponsored by Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) to ban selling guns to people on terrorist watch and no-fly lists because it would deprive them of a constitutional right without due process.
To try to force the issue, frustrated Democrats disrupted House business Wednesday by literally sitting down on the floor of the House and staying there. About 10 to 20 of them spent the night, including Israel. Rice stayed most of the night.
During the night Ryan flexed the power of majority rule: He called the House into session and, amid Democrats’ chanting and shouting, led his side to pass two unrelated bills. Later, at around 3 a.m., Republicans voted to adjourn the House.
Democrats said they created momentum for their cause, aided by broadcasts to the nation through the social media app Periscope after the House video feed was turned off.
Israel, a member of House Democratic leadership who helped plan the protest and other potential maneuvers to push the gun bills forward, supervised the last eight or nine hours of the sit in. With the sit in over, Israel tweeted, “This ending is a new beginning.”
Meanwhile, a bipartisan compromise sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) — which would ban a fewer suspected terrorists from buying guns than other bills — passed a procedural vote 46-52, but its future is unclear. An alternative version by Sen. Ron Johnson (D-Wis.) — giving authorities 72 hours to get a court order to stop a sale — was shelved in a 67-31 vote.