Metro-East News

House sit-in over guns frays friendly ties among Illinois delegation

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, during the sit-in on the House floor.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, during the sit-in on the House floor.

The usually friendly ties among members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation have frayed noticeably in the wake of the daylong sit-in that Democrats staged into the wee hours Thursday on the U.S. House floor.

More than 50 Democrats, led by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., staged the sit-in to protest the Republican-led House not voting on Democrats’ call for expanding background checks for gun buyers and keeping people on the no-fly list from getting guns.

The Democrat’s proposal comes after the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., this month that killed 49 people.

In a teleconference Thursday, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, dismissed the sit-in as “a publicity stunt” that violated House rules and decorum.

Davis said he agreed with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that they would work to prevent future sit-ins from interfering with House business when Congress returns home from its Independence Day break early next month.

“This is a stunt according to the speaker, and it’s something that I’m sure he’s going to be aware of,” Davis said. “Well see how they’re going to be able to respond to it.”

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from suburban Chicago, eagerly took part in the 26-hour protest and vowed to take part when Congress returns to session.

Duckworth, who lost both legs and suffered other severe injuries when the Army helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq in November 2004, was the subject of widely circulated photographs and video showing her seated on the House floor next to her wheelchair, her leg prostethics removed.

“I’m proud to join Congressman John Lewis and dozens of my colleagues as we sit in on the House floor today. We have had enough,” Duckworth said in a statement. “I’m tired of seeing children who are sitting in their living rooms or bedrooms killed by bullets coming through the windows and walls of their homes. It is absolutely horrific.”

I’m tired of seeing children who are sitting in their living rooms or bedrooms killed by bullets coming through the windows and walls of their homes. It is absolutely horrific.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois

Democratic members had taken control of the House chamber late Wednesday morning, with dozens of them staying all night, at times bursting into the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

The Democrats took turns occupying the chamber after tense, rowdy scenes that nearly erupted into a fistfight with the majority Republicans, according to news accounts.

Duckworth, who is campaigning for the Senate seat occupied by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said in her statement that it is “simply not acceptable that we continue to allow people to be mowed down in their homes, in their places of worship or even when they’re out having a good time on a weekend. We can work to end this violence with common sense gun legislation.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who took part in the sit-in, also voiced his support for the protest.

“I was proud to join my House colleagues from Illinois and around the country to say enough is enough — this Congress can no longer ignore the will of the American people for common-sense gun reform,” Durbin said. “Too many guns are getting in the hands of dangerous people and that must change. We won’t stop pushing until it does.”

Too many guns are getting in the hands of dangerous people and that must change. We won’t stop pushing until it does.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, shared Davis’ dim view of the sit-in.

In a statement, Bost complained that Congressional Democrats “have derailed the business of the People's House for an entire day in an effort to score political points.”

Bost wrote that, as a father and a grandfather, he mourns the victims of Orlando.

“Any innocent victim of violence is one victim too many,” he wrote. “But at a time when both parties in Washington keep shouting past each other, this unprecedented obstruction by the D.C. Democrats will only widen the gulf and make it that much harder to get Congress working for the American people again.”

The catalyst for the Democrats’ protest was the Republican-led chamber’s refusal to allow votes on two controversial bills: the first, the so-called “no-fly, no-buy” measure, would ban people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list from purchasing guns legally. The second measure would have expanded background checks on gun buyers.

The National Rifle Association, which donates heavily to sympathetic lawmakers in Congress, vehemently opposed both measures.

Like his GOP colleagues, Davis viewed the mass shooting in Orlando nearly two weeks ago as an instance of Islamic-inspired terrorism.

Davis downplayed other motives that might have guided Omar Mateen, the shooter. Some news outlets have reported that Mateen, who was married and had a young son, led a gay double life. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that FBI investigators have found no evidence to support that notion.

“The shooter even pledged allegiance to a radical Islamic terrorist group,” Davis said, referring to 911 calls Mateen made in which he claimed inspiration from the Islamic State. “Still this did not stop this administration or many of my colleagues that I serve with from trying to turn this into a debate on the firearms side of the equation.”

Davis said he did not believe the Demcratic-led House sit-in and criticism of the way the GOP has responded to gun-control efforts will hurt his party’s candidates in the November elections.

“This is the news of the day, the 24-hour news cycle,” he said. “It’s gotten a lot of publicity because many of the Democrats who were on the floor broke the House rules, and those types of events are going to garner a lot of publicity.”

It’s gotten a lot of publicity because many of the Democrats who were on the floor broke the House rules, and those types of events are going to garner a lot of publicity.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville

That publicity will embolden Democrats to continue actions that will get in the way of Congress making progress on steps that could prevent future tragedies like the one in Orlando from happening, according to Davis.

“I think the publicity that was garnered is probably going to encourage many to do it even more so,” he said. “And I think that stops us from actually coming up with common sense solutions regarding this issue and many other issues that the American people are clamoring for.”

Duckworth has vowed to return to the House floor to join other Democrats in a resumption of the sit-in until the House’s Republican leaders allow votes on the two measures.

“The fact of the matter is all we’re asking for is a vote,” Duckworth said. “Americans want this vote on gun violence. Do not silence my constituents — no bill, no break.”

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

  Comments