Washington — Rep. John Larson, an architect of a sit-in rebellion of House Democrats last summer, said he and his colleagues will not be deterred by new House rules that will levy fines on such future behavior. He calls the Republicans’ proposed new punishments “Putin-esque.”
“This isn’t the old Politburo. This is the United States Congress,” Larson said.
Angered that the House GOP did not schedule votes on gun control legislation, Larson and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., engineered the takeover of the House floor last summer. Since the C-SPAN cameras had been turned off, Democrats who joined the “sit-in” captured national attention by live-streaming the protest on their social media accounts, using their mobile phones.
In apparent reaction to that phenomenon, the proposed new rules for the next Congress, to be voted on on Jan. 3 when the House convenes for its new session, would impose fines on lawmakers who use “an electronic device for still photography, audio or visual recording, or broadcasting,” on the House floor.
Members could face a $500 fine through deductions to their paychecks for a first offense. A $2,500 fine would be leveled for the next such offense and each subsequent violation.
“These rules will not be adopted without a fight,” Larson said. “They think they can bully and fine us, but we’re not going to stop.”
Larson also said House GOP leaders are intent on imposing “gag rules” on members and “irresponsibly surrendering to the gun lobby” by trying to stop future protests.
The new rules also lay out what kind of conduct would be considered disorderly or disruptive, including blocking access by other members to microphones or what is known as “the well” — in the front of the chamber.
Violations could lead to potential referral to the Committee on Ethics and sanctions against members.
“These changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work,” said AshLee Strong, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Larson said he and longtime friend Lewis shared their frustrations at the inaction of the House on gun control legislation during a Ways and Means Committee hearing the week after shooter Omar Mateen killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub.
“We were saying, ‘This is just too much, we have to do something,’” Larson said.
While Larson, and to a lesser extent Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, helped organize last summer’s protest, every member of Connecticut’s House delegation – all Democrats – participated in the sit-in that disrupted the chamber’s business for 25 hours. So did most other House Democrats.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., shared Larson’s defiance at the proposed rules changes.
“Sadly, the first action of the new Congress will be the passage of rules changes targeting Democratic Members who participated in the 25-hour sit-in following the horrific Pulse shooting in Orlando that killed 49 and wounded more than 50,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill. “House Republicans continue to act as the handmaidens of the gun lobby, refusing to pass sensible, bipartisan legislation to expand background checks and keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.”
Under the new rules, the House Sergeant-at-Arms would establish procedures for enforcing the new rules and bans, and the Chief Administrative Officer would be authorized to deduct any fines from members’ salaries for violations.