The Supreme Court wasn’t the only active place on Capitol Hill this morning. When the show aired Thursday morning, House Democrats were just over 22 hours into their sit-in on the House floor. The protest started Wednesday around 11:30 a.m. when GOP leaders refused to vote on two pieces of gun legislation.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, whose party controls the chamber, called the move a “publicity stunt” and proceeded to adjourn the chamber until July 5.
So what happens next? Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio spoke to us from the House floor. He says the sit-in is the result of frustration with Congress’ inaction.
“We felt like we had to take a stand on behalf of the American people because we’ve seen mass shooting after mass shooting,” he says, “…and the answer from the Congress is always the same. They do absolutely nothing. Even though 90 percent of Americans support background checks, and 90 percent of Americans agree that if you’re on the no-fly list, you shouldn’t be able to get a gun until that’s resolved. This was us taking action.”
Congress is on recess until July 5, at which point Castro says Democrats will continue “pressing and urging Speaker Ryan and the Republican majority to take action.”
“Remember … these are Republican-sponsored bills,” Castro says. “The only thing we’ve been asking for is a vote. We’re not certain that they’re going to pass, but we’ve been asking for a vote because that’s a minimum that a representative owes his or her constituents: is to stand up and take a vote.”
Castro says sometimes votes can be difficult and politics get in the way, but it’s part of the job.
“Whenever you’re an elected official, that’s what you have signed up for – to take those tough votes,” he says.
Speaker Ryan called the sit-in a publicity stunt, despite similar situations where votes were taken on items that would never see the light of day.
“That’s really a ridiculous answer. Over the last two years when Democrats controlled the Senate, there were thousands of votes that we took in the House of Representatives which was Republican-controlled, that they knew had no chance of passing at all, that the president would never sign, that the senate would never pass. Yet they still put them up for a vote.”
Castro says he was informed of the plans for the sit-in at his Wednesday morning caucus meeting.
“I was told that John Lewis was going to take this action and wanted support. And all of us, like the American people, had enough of Congress not doing its job. Seeing murder after murder after murder, and doing nothing about it. Staying on the sidelines and remaining silent – and silence is not a solution here.”
Around 80 speakers got up on Wednesday. Castro says “all of us are going to keep it up,” with no plans to stop until a vote is taken. The House chamber cameras were turned off due to the recess. But thanks to smartphones, the sit-in has been broadcast via apps like Periscope and Facebook Live. Castro says if this were happening 20 years ago, there would be no way to see what was happening inside the chamber.
“You saw a similar version of that in Texas a few years ago with Wendy Davis, so many folks were following it online,” he says. “…I fought for years to get the Texas legislature televised C-SPAN style – that never happened. Still many people watched what happened years ago in Texas and millions of Americans watched yesterday.”
Castro says he hopes the sit-in will make the House majority “listen to the will of the people.”
“Even if they want to vote no, they ought to at least take a vote,” Castro says. “That’s the minimum requirement for representing the American people. At least put your name to a yes or no vote on something and let people know where you stand.”
Production help from Alex Daily. Web post by Allyson Michele.