A visibly irritated Speaker Paul Ryan chastised Democrats on Thursday morning for hijacking the House floor, and promised to bring the legislature back to regular order shortly.
The House’s top Republican criticized Democrats for pulling a “a political stunt, a fundraising stunt.”
How the GOP will restore order remains an open and difficult question, though. So far, other than Ryan’s lecture for Democrats, Republicans haven’t developed an answer.
Around 11:25 a.m. Wednesday, the minority party seized control of the House floor, refusing to leave and staging a 1960s-style sit-in to demand a vote on gun control 10 days after the Orlando terrorist attack. Republicans in turn took up a controversial package to fight the Zika virus rather than engaging with Democrats.
Around 3 a.m. Thursday, Ryan brought to the floor a partially funded, $1.1 billion bill to combat Zika. It passed mostly along party lines, 239-171. Only two Republicans opposed the measure, even though conservatives had said they’d oppose any bill that didn’t use unspent money dedicated to fighting the Ebola virus to eradicate the new disease.
Then the House adjourned a day early for lawmakers’ recess.
Ryan promised to prevent another ruckus like the one Wednesday night, when shouting Democrats refused to come to order on the floor.
“I think it sets a very dangerous precedent,” Ryan said. “We are reviewing everything right now as to what happened and how to make sure we can bring order to the chaos. This is the people’s house and [Democrats] are descending into chaos. I don’t think this should be a very proud moment for democracy, or for the people who staged these stunts.”
After Ryan’s press conference, Democrats—who had been chanting “no bill, no break” for almost 24 hours—promptly left the floor around 1 p.m., pledging to return when the House comes back in session July 5.
“A fire has been lit across our nation,” Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, vice chairman of the Democratic caucus, said. “It’s a new day in Washington, it’s a new way to fight as well.”
Perhaps disorientated from a night of little sleep, the chairmen of the three biggest Republican caucuses seemed unsure how to respond.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told The Daily Signal he thinks the House should focus on terrorism, not gun control.
In particular, Jordan said he wants the House to take up a bill it passed last year to tighten background checks for Iraqi and Syrian refugees. The Senate didn’t consider the bill.
“So we’re pushing our leadership to bring those sorts of things to the floor,” Jordan said.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, credited Ryan for “taking a measured approach” to Democrats’ extreme tactics. He told The Daily Signal that, like Jordan, he doesn’t believe “guns are the issue.”
To turn the debate back toward terrorism and “put the Democrats in a tight spot,” he proposed forcing a vote on a House resolution affirming the Second Amendment.
“Democrats are hell-bent on giving Paul Ryan a black eye.” —@RepKenBuck
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa, the chairman of both the Tuesday Group and the Ethics Committee, fielded numerous concerns from members about Democrat violations of decorum and contacted the Sergeant-At-Arms to investigate why the rules weren’t be enforced on the floor.
“Adopting tactics used by fringe groups like Occupy Wall Street is counterproductive,” Dent said, “and will not help or lead to any sort of consensus or action on firearms.”
Reviewing the play-by-play of the night before, Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said Republicans should’ve seen the sit-in coming.
“If we would’ve anticipated it, which we should’ve, we could’ve made some better moves,” Brat told The Daily Signal, adding that rehashing Republican strategy amounted to little more than “Monday morning quarterbacking now.”
Several conservative congressional staffers voiced similar frustration with Republican leadership. They told The Daily Signal that GOP leaders failed to counter the Democrats’ protest with legislation that shifted the focus back to terrorism or in defense of the Second Amendment. They said Republicans now face a similar scenario upon their return from recess.
Legislative alternatives weren’t the only option for Republicans. They could have followed the example Democrats set in 2008 after adjourning for August recess: When Republicans stayed on the floor to protest lack of action on rising gas prices, then-Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., killed the microphones and lights. Pelosi’s party attempted to remove reporters from the press gallery.
Ryan said he isn’t ready to shut off the lights yet. Instead, he seemed to yield control of the floor to Democrats, saying they “can talk all they want.”
Now Democrats have the Republican conference on the run, a top GOP aide told The Daily Signal. Ryan and the rest of leadership didn’t squash the Democrat sit-in, the staffer said, because they’re afraid of the immediate political blowback and long-term campaign consequences.
“Members fear political votes,” he said. “They fear the ads. They fear the liberal grassroots in their district mobilizing a populist message.”
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., interpreted the sit-in as part of an ongoing campaign by Democrats to throw the House off track.
Buck pointed to controversial policy riders from Democrats—including amendments regarding transgender bathrooms and Confederate flags—in addition to their sit-in as evidence that, in his words, “Democrats are hell-bent on giving Paul Ryan a black eye” and “have no interest in governing.”
This report has been modified to better clarify Rep. Dent’s actions during the Democrat sit-in.