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Democrats keep up gun control protest after all-night sit-in

The House drama began before noon when Lewis and dozens of colleagues sat down on the carpeted floor in the well of the chamber.

Published: 23rd June 2016 06:52 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd June 2016 06:52 PM   |  A+A-

By AFP

US Democrats on Thursday vowed to continue pushing for gun safety legislation in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre and pressed on with a dramatic nearly day old sit-in even though it failed to force a vote in Congress.

The scenes on the House floor, unprecedented in recent history, began after Democrats joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi disrupted the chamber's proceedings Wednesday, prompting Republican Speaker Paul Ryan to gavel the House into session late at night.

Ryan, who dismissed the protest as a "publicity stunt," refused to allow votes on two bills demanded by Democrats: one to expand background checks and another that prevents people on terror watch lists and no-fly lists from buying guns.

Instead, he called for votes on unrelated issues as he sought a return to order as Democrats shouted "No bill, no break!" referring to the Congress's two week break for the Fourth of July.

"The time for silence and patience is long gone," said House Democrat John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s and led Wednesday's protest.

"Do we have raw courage to make at least a down payment on ending gun violence in America?" he added.

The House drama began before noon when Lewis and dozens of colleagues sat down on the carpeted floor in the well of the chamber.

Fifteen hours after the sit-in began, the presiding officer adjourned the House for two weeks in response to the protest and Republicans began leaving the building.

Some 20 diehards remained in the chamber Thursday morning, however, news reports said.

Representative Gregory Meeks of New York, speaking in a hoarse voice, told CNN he had about an hour's nap during the sit in.

"But we're going right back to the floor, as soon as I finish here," he said.

Meeks added: "We're going to make sure we are here at least for 24 hours today, but whenever Congress comes back into session, we will continue."

He said that even while Congress is on break "there will be things going on, folks will be here. We will continue to fight, until we get a vote on a couple of bills."

On Thursday Democrats will "discuss and strategize," Meeks said.

Earlier, Democratic House whip Steny Hoyer accused Republicans of having "left in the dead of night with business unfinished."

"The fight will continue when the House comes back in session," he added, referring to the July 5 return date.

- How many have to die -

The congressional disobedience reflects the escalating political confrontation during an extraordinary presidential campaign, with Democrats urging tougher gun control measures -- even if such legislation has virtually no chance of passing.

US lawmakers, mainly Democrats, have introduced several bills in recent years aimed at reducing gun violence, including legislation to expand background checks, but none have passed Congress.

"Who has to be shot, and how many have to die before we do anything?" asked congresswoman Robin Kelly.

The sit-in, which quickly grew to about 100 members, drew attention from the White House.

"Thank you John Lewis for leading on gun violence where we need it most," President Barack Obama posted on Twitter.

Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton also chimed in after C-Span, which broadcasts congressional sessions, was forced to turn off its cameras after Republicans forced a recess.

"House Republicans may have cut the cameras, but they can't cut off our voices," Clinton said in a tweet.

"We have to act on gun violence."

Democrats enacted a creative workaround, broadcasting live video from Periscope and Facebook that was carried by C-Span.

It was the first time the public broadcaster aired live social media footage from the House floor -- where taking pictures and video is prohibited.

It showed extraordinary scenes.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a former US Army helicopter pilot who was wounded and lost both legs in Iraq, sat with her colleagues on the carpet, with her prosthetics removed and her wheelchair empty beside her.

Pelosi joined the insurgents, then led several lawmakers and gun violence survivors and relatives outside onto the Capitol steps, where protesters sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."

The Senate rejected four gun control amendments earlier this week, although a handful of lawmakers are pushing a bipartisan compromise bill aimed at preventing terror suspects and people on no-fly lists and FBI watchlists from buying firearms.

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