‘No bill, no break!’ Queens Democrats in the thick of the Congressional sit-in on Capitol Hill

Congresswoman Grace Meng (at left) participates in the sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Photo via Twitter/@RepGraceMeng

Members of Congress representing Queens made their voices heard in the sit-in that began yesterday morning on the floor of the House of Representatives and ended this afternoon.

House Democrats, led by Georgia Congressman John Lewis, began their protest just after 11 a.m. Wednesday demanding that the Republican-led chamber take a vote on proposed gun control regulations in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

They want the Republican leadership to schedule votes on various proposed gun regulations aimed at preventing future mass shootings and other gun violence, including one bill that would bar suspected terrorists on the government’s no-fly list from being able to purchase weapons. The Republican leadership has refused to schedule votes on the matter up to this point.

“They could potentially turn the air off, potentially turn the lights off in the chamber, but a fire has been lit in our nation,” Woodside-based Congressman Joe Crowley, who is also deputy minority whip, said at a early morning press conference Thursday. “It’s a new day in Washington, we’re not going to sit back and do nothing. … We demand that these bills be taken up as soon as possible, and if my Republican colleagues don’t, then they will answer to the American people.”

The sit-in began Wednesday as the House was in the closing moments of its session prior to their July 4 recess. South Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks was on the floor when Lewis and his colleagues started the sit-in. The Republican leadership gaveled out, halting the House’s regular business. Speaker Paul Ryan — who dismissed the sit-in as a publicity stunt — had the House’s video feed interrupted; Democrats resorted to live-streaming their protest on their smartphones.

“Following the deadliest shooting in our nation’s history, an overwhelming majority of the American people want Congress to close the loophole that allowed the hateful gunman in Orlando to murder 49 people and wound dozens more,” Meeks said in a statement. “The NRA [National Rifle Association], however, has muffled the voices of those demanding action on gun safety. While Americans are pleading for Congress to enact stronger gun safety laws, Republicans have sat on their hands and done nothing, disregarding the cries of victims, their friends and their families.”

Other lawmakers from the Queens delegation — Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney, Grace Meng and Nydia Velazquez and Congressmen Steve Israel and Hakeem Jeffries — joined the sit-in and took turns speaking about the need for new gun regulations. Supporters of the cause from the Senate also visited them, including Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy — who led a 15-hour filibuster on gun regulation last week that spurred a vote on Monday in which four proposed regulations were defeated — and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Things turned tense just after 10 p.m. Wednesday, when Ryan showed up to gavel the House back into regular business. Democrats shouted over his remarks, “No bill, no break!” and “Shame! Shame! Shame!” They then sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” as the House proceeded with a vote on an unrelated presidential veto, which failed to be overridden.

The House again took a break, but the Democratic members remained on the floor well into the early morning hours. House Republicans reconvened at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, passed a bill funding various Zika protection measures and officially recessed for the week.

Though the House Republicans left, a number of House of Democrats remained and continued their occupation. Speaking on the House floor just after 4 a.m. Thursday, Maloney noted that the phones of her office were “ringing off the hook” with people “thanking the Democrats for standing up and making a difference.”

“More people have died of gun violence since 1968 than all of the people that died for our country in wars,” she said. “How insane is it that that we’re not [considering] common-sense, no-fly, no-buy background checks? These are reasonable, moderate positions that in no way infringe upon the Second Amendment.”

Once the House reconvenes after the July 4 break, Congressman Lewis told CNN he intends to pick up the protest where it left off: “We must come back on July 5 more determined than ever before.”