In Which Our Congressional Leaders Bravely Protest For a Few Hours Until They Get Bored

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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73 Responses

  1. Maribou says:

    Hm. My support for the sit in had more to do with “it’s wrong to deliberately avoid having votes, they should get called on that” and less to do with gun control. I’m baffled that they stopped so quickly, and baffled that Lewis sees it as a victory.

    I’m hesitant to call it Twitterization or anything else, mostly because Lewis, to me, is a civil rights hero, so when he starts acting in ways that very much resemble civil rights disobedience actions, my tendency is to assume he knows what he’s doing, and I don’t.

    I mostly find myself puzzled by the whole thing. When they said it was a sit-in, I figured they’d be on the floor until the vote was allowed…Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

      I agree it’s wrong to have votes just because, but hey, I get told all the time how important the parliamentary procedures of the house & senate are, and perhaps I’m wrong, but this struck me as an effort to bypass those procedures by throwing a twitter tantrum.

      Either they matter, or they don’t, but you don’t get to pick & choose when it’s politically convenient.Report

      • The congressional minority very often doesn’t get to vote. That’s nothing new. I would be supportive of a rule change that allowed the minority party to demand a vote on a fixed number of bill proposals. Like two a month or something. But those aren’t the current rules and have never been.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Will Truman says:

          Which still falls under the whole, “Hey, we have these rules, and they are mighty important because mumble mumble, so let’s be following them and not pulling such stunts on the floor”.

          Sheesh, next thing ya know we’ll be having fist fights across the aisle. Actually…Report

    • Will H. in reply to Maribou says:

      @maribou :
      I’ve met John Lewis. I shook his hand, and talked to him for a few minutes.
      I wasn’t impressed. Hopeful, but disappointed.
      Lewis used to be a civil rights figure, and his place in history is an important one.
      These days, he’s just one to coast on his war tales of Long Ago, and enjoy the comforts hard-won while surveying the battlegrounds from afar.
      He is a shadow of his former self.

      I wish it were otherwise, but I’m not going to lie for the man.
      His reputation speaks of a man who is no more.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    Watching their own Tea Party moment unfold has been interesting. For what it’s worth, though, most of the leftist and liberals on my Twitter feed were somewhere between is-this-the-right-hill-unenthusiastic (Drew) and opposition (Noonan, Chris). I know that’s not representative, though, because I’ve seen a lot of retweets.

    I don’t actually have a huge problem with the tactics, to be honest. It’s showboating to an extreme and all that, but I could see myself being more supportive of it under different circumstances. That they chose it here, though, leaves me shaking my head. And by “here” I don’t mean “gun control” so much as I mean “In service of getting a vote on a bill that already failed in the senate that has the ACLU and a lot of Muslims worried.”

    But it makes sense when you look at it primarily as a fundraising mechanism. And I’m pretty sure it was.Report

    • Also, I’ll park this here:


    • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

      What’s your count on smoking the mirrors, Will?
      (or, um, are we not allowed to talk about the blatant astroturfing?)

      [ETA: this is me saying that you’re utterly wrong if you want to call this the Democratic Tea Party Moment.]Report

    • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Will Truman says:

      I’m completely of mixed mind about this. It was a horrible bill: for better or worse, given the current jurisprudence, gun ownership is a constitutional right. And denying citizens a fundamental right without due process, without transparency, and without recourse is horrifying; a n unsubtle Trumpization of political discourse that would be guaranteed to be discarded by the courts. It is a refutation of all that liberalism has stood for in my lifetime. So for that reason, I’m glad it has ended.

      But on the other hand, watching this show of determination, resolution, and moral conviction just kind of… disintegrate after a few days reinforces all of my frustration with the Democratic party. Their attempt to replicate Republican tactics merely reinforces what a spineless and opportunistic party the Democrats are. I really dislike most Republican policies (and tactics), but I at least have the sense that they operate from conviction.

      We need more symmetrical parties: either two genuinely ideological and principled parties, or two coalition parties clustered around a shared center. But what we have now is the worst of all possible worlds.Report

      • greginak in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

        Yeah this covers it well. The D’s manage to disappoint in two completely separate ways on one issue.

        Bra. Vo.Report

      • NoPublic in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

        The Republicans. The ones who are backing Trump. Conviction. What are you smoking and where can I get some?Report

        • Llama in reply to NoPublic says:

          How many votes have they taken against Obamacare? When was the last time house republicans tried to actually pass some meaningful legislation? 2005 or 2004, maybe?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:


        “But on the other hand, watching this show of determination, resolution, and moral conviction just kind of… disintegrate after a few days reinforces all of my frustration with the Democratic party. Their attempt to replicate Republican tactics merely reinforces what a spineless and opportunistic party the Democrats are. I really dislike most Republican policies (and tactics), but I at least have the sense that they operate from conviction.”

        I disagree. I think the sit-in shows that the Democratic Party is developing a spine. They are no longer going to be the kick me party, the party that tries to triangulate a position that does not offend anybody. The Democratic Party knows that the base wants gun regulation and is sick of tired of the NRA and open carry assholes. The Democratic Party is sick and tired of mass shootings and the seemingly cavalier attitude that the Republicans and libertarians take on mass shootings, that they are a price to pay for the 2nd Amendment. Former OTer Bouie also thinks this assessment is true:

        “That Democrats are willing to gum up the House in an effort to pass new gun control legislation is indicative of the change in the congressional Democratic Party over the past seven years. It’s a geographically smaller party, with many more liberals and a proportionately greater number of representatives from dense urban areas. Where once it counted NRA backers like Michigan’s John Dingell among its longest-serving members, now it’s dominated by liberals like Lewis, with few if any ties to pro-gun activists. It’s almost tailor-made for a vocal action on gun control. Couple that with broad support for new anti-gun measures among Democratic voters, and you get the spectacle of the past seven days, which included a filibuster in addition to Wednesday’s sit-in. Regardless of where you stand on the issue itself, this past week is the clearest possible evidence that we’re watching a new kind of Democratic Party, one in which a young black representative from Brooklyn named Hakeem Jeffries, speaking shortly before midnight, invokes Martin Luther King and Bull Connor in a call-and-response with his colleagues. One that’s changing.”Report

        • trizzlor in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Yes, it’s changing into a party that invokes the spirit of MLK to expand the reach of a racist watch list. What a triumph!Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to trizzlor says:


            To be somewhat fair, Alex Pareene at Gawker called it a bad law. To be some what unfortunate for my party, I don’t think they quite realize how bad the law is and are not thinking fully.

            Yet the libertarians I know are going about winning allies among the Democratic Party because they can’t resist the opportunity for trolling points and because they support gun rights. I think they would have a chance at defeating the law if they focused more on “this is the bad kind of gun regulation.” But they don’t want any so….Report

            • Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              The dems have a history of passing ineffective gun law legislation. And then when they do they start announcing that that’s just the first stage of the plan, yadda yadda.

              And then when that law fails or is sunsetted they go back to “we’re not out for your guns” BS and wonder why they aren’t believed. SHOCKING.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Who are all these libertarians that you know?Report

        • j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The amusing thing about the whole it’s about time the Democratic Party grew a spine and become more like the GOP in supporting its base is that it completely ignores what’s happened with the GOP.

          So, best of luck with that.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to j r says:

            I wish I was confident that you were wrong about this. But given the idiocy of the particular gun control policy they’re pushing here, I am not.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

        I would counsel you to be of more homogeneous mind. There is very little determination or moral conviction in pursuing a measure that has extremely little practical impact and what it has is bad, which is designed just to be a political problem for the other side and a fundraising object, and holding it up with as much drama as if it’s the difference between having more mass shootings or not, invoking the most sacred tropes in liberal political activism over it, and just generally making a huge show out of meaningless legislation.

        It exactly reinforces your point about Democrats that they do this not over the gun policies they actually think we need, but over the ones they’ve designed to be of the most marginal impact, and supposedly the most consensus-based ones, in an effort, many iterations old now, to show that there is no consensus policy, no matter how marginal, that Republicans will agree to. Everyone already gets that, but this type of pointmaking PR politics over marginally substantive measures is what the Democrats are comfortable with (in the post-2010 era… and before it during the ’07-’08 Democratic majority), and it’s what they can execute with a degree of competence. So rather than begin to tell the American public what gun laws they actually think we should have (because those are hard questions), they would rather dwell on the fact that the GOP won’t do the marginal, nearly meaningless things that there is a public opinion semi-consensus about. And that is the kind of pointmaking that this theater of the absurd (it’s absurd because technically what they are protesting is the ability of the Majority to govern in the House… which is something they all believe in) was done in service of.

        So if I were you I wouldn’t hesitate to just let this episode run through your fingers and go with the sentiment you express in your second paragraph with few reservations.Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but these are people for whom “This is unpleasant and tedious… must be a task for staff to do” is a way of life.Report

  4. North says:

    Agreed, it was lame when the GOP did it under Pelosi and it’s lame when the Dems do it under Ryan.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to North says:

      Lame indeed, but it doesn’t seem particularly consequential to me. I’ve been irritated reading my liberal friends get all excited about a push to bring up the worst of all possible gun control bills, but I don’t think they’re disrupting the regular order of the chamber in a way that will affect anything. Perhaps if we didn’t have constant gridlock or if the House was conducting meaningful oversight lately I would be bothered, but why does this matter?Report

      • North in reply to Don Zeko says:

        Yes, I agree. It isn’t consequential and frankly my Todd’s original post is lacking in that it neglects to observe that the GOP under Boehner did this exact same stunt when Pelosi was running the show (she turned the lights off on them in addition to the cameras or microphones). Posturing and pontificating is part of politics.
        Liberals getting excited by this are gullible.
        Conservatives getting outraged by this are hypocrites.Report

  5. greginak says:

    Yup…silly tactics for a stupid bill. If you want to pull out this kind of tactic, which might be justified, it better be for a real high priority AND quality bill/action AND you better be willing to carry it through for a long time. This shouldn’t be a quikee fund raising and gin up the troops action.Report

  6. DensityDuck says:

    I think it’s really, really weird that suddenly Congressional Democrats are OK with the No-Fly List.Report

  7. Kazzy says:


    To be clear, are you criticizing the use of sit-ins as a tactic by elected officials? Sit-ins in general? Or this particular sit-in which seemed more about publicity than actually making change?Report

  8. trizzlor says:

    Yeah, I’m a bit confused about what specifically you’re criticizing, and what specifically a roll-up-your-sleeves governance alternative is supposed to look like. I personally think the “no fly, no buy” bill is extremely idiotic and mildly racist and I’m ashamed that so many in the liberal establishment have fallen for it just because it lets them call someone else terrorist-lovers for a change … BUT, I don’t see anything wrong with using theatrics to bring attention to an issue, especially when that issue is “we want to vote on this thing!”. They’re not shutting down the government and throwing thousands of people into limbo. They’re not trying to abdicate on previous obligations. Or even demanding that they get any specific concession. They want a vote. In the wake of a massive tragedy. Maybe the normal order deserves to be shaken up a bit? And if it doesn’t, well, the public will punish them for it.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    The effectiveness of this strategy will not be seen in any gun control legislation that passes in the next few weeks or months – the design of House procedures and who now controls them makes that impossible.

    The effectiveness of this strategy will be seen, if it is effective, in shaking out some money and motivation to make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House come next January.

    Though yes, in the short term “we’re not going to do anything in this here Congress” seems to be a fairly empty threat against the Republicans. I thought the same thing during the Senate fillibuster a week or two ago.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Kolohe says:


    • j r in reply to Kolohe says:

      So you’re saying that the elected members of congress used their official positions and the apparatus of the U.S. government to campaign for the next election?

      It wouldn’t be the first time, but I am pretty sure that is technically illegal. It’s not quite good governance either way.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to j r says:

        Bro, do you even frank?Report

      • Llama in reply to j r says:

        Do you mean when Republicans spent millions of taxpayer dollars conducting the longest running congressional investigation (longer than Watergate or the 9/11 investigations) into Benghazi?Report

        • j r in reply to Llama says:

          In what way do you think that pointing out something terrible and stupid that the Republican Party did in any way absolves the Democratic Party from doing something potentially terrible and stupid?

          “But he did it, too!” doesn’t work in pre-school. Why should it work for adults?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to j r says:

        Yeah, politicians grandstanding to pander for votes is pretty shocking. Next, let’s complain about lawyers making transparently false public statements in support of their clients, and businesses making inflated claims for the merit of their products.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Kolohe says:

      Of course. This is why the fact that the actual bill is terrible is irrelevant. The bill was never going to get passed anyway. The point is (a) to make a display of Democratic resolution, so as to inspire the troops, and (b) to make it look like Republicans are in favor of selling guns to terrorists. It’s all theater, but what else is new? I also don’t think any of this is a bad thing. I am all in favor of Democrats showing resolve, and am tentatively optimistic that this is a signal that they will do so when something substantive is on the line. And making the gun lobby look crazy? That’s all good.

      What bemuses me is the people wringing their hands over the “precedent,” as if Republicans haven’t done the same thing. I can understand Democrats being concern about Democrats acting like Republicans, but I don’t see any principled complaint from the Republican side, unless it is simply that the Democrats are wrong, therefore whatever Democrats do is wrong.

      Then there is the sniggering about the fact that the sit-in did not persist in perpetuity. The House adjourned without doing whatever it is that the House would have done had the sit-in not taken place. If this isn’t the end game, what is?Report

  10. Damon says:

    “The bravery of a group of elected officials who shared a few hours standing up to The Man, ”

    Dude, they ARE the man. Make no mistake about it.Report

  11. Chip Daniels says:

    With whom would the Democrats engage in this “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    Isn’t asking for a vote on a SCOTUS nomination “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    Is yelling “YOU LIE!” at the State of the Union address an example of “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    Is the 50th repeal of Obamacare an example of “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    Is shutting down the Federal Government an example of “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    Is threatening a default on the national debt an example of “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    What makes anyone think the Republican majority is interested in “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    We are in John Cole’s Tire Rims and Anthrax territory now.

    The possibility of “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing ” ended on Jan 9, 2008 when the GOP chose deliberate obstruction and sabotage as their sole means of governance.

    This is High Broderism at work. Why not just suggest that if Obama had a snort of Scotch with Paul Ryan, they could just work things out like Tip and Ronnie used to do?

    And we’ve seen this in virtually every other protest movement as well.
    Why do they have to picket the factory? Confrontational and divisive!
    Why do they have to sit in at lunch counters? How unproductive and doesn’t do anything!
    Why does ACT-UP have to barge into churches? This is childish!

    Rinse, repeat.

    I tell you what- noisy, messy, painfully awkward protests ARE A PART OF “difficult, sweaty, roll-up-your-sleeves, spit-in-the-palm, honest-to-God-damned governing “?

    That’s how stuff gets done!Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Oh, I”m sorry. Did the mean Republicans not cave in and do what you asked? Well them, nothing but empty and ineffectual symbolism it is!!!

      I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch this piece from John Oliver. Yeah, yeah, he’s just a comedian. But still.

      One of the truths that stands our for me in this piece is how gun control advocates don’t face an uphill battle in public opinion. They doesn’t face an uphill battle in terms of numbers of on the ground advocates. They doesn’t even face an uphill battle in terms of money and donations. (The pork that the NRA sloshes around is really small, comparatively — like, really surprisingly small.)

      The real difference between pro- and anti-GC, it seems, is that one of those groups are willing to pick up their phones and call their congresspeople, and then call them again, every time there’s a public discussion. And they vote on this issue.

      The other group, on the other hand, can’t be bothered to pick pick up the phone. And they don’t donate money to their side’s lobbyists, because hey, isn’t that something someone else is supposed to do? And they don’t change their votes to punish candidates who cave on them with this issue because something something David Broder.

      They just don’t.

      So if you’re looking for a place to start to make real change, you might try picking up the phone, donating five bucks, or holding your party accountable, rather than liking a Facebook post or retweeting someone that “totally destroyed” Reince Preibus in 125 characters and three eggplant emoji. Cheering a “protest” that. let’s be honest, wasn’t that much longer than a Catholic wedding, by a bunch of rich people people who had their staff to run and fetch them whatever they were in the mood for while they sat watching their tweets — until everyone went home, and now they’ll will move on to other things, and we won’t hear about this again after November but that’s ok because hey, you’ll vote for the same people anyway, because someone pointing out that this works for s**t is “high Brodersim”?

      Well, it that’s your version of “tire rims and anthrax,” well… I dunno. Have at it, I guess.

      Good luck with the whole passing gun control legislation thingy.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        How do you think political progress has ever gotten made, if not for hundreds or thousands of small skirmishes and battles that each were insignificant or even counterproductive?

        Yes, a million people donating to Dems works, a million people calling their Congress criteria works.
        But how do you think these people get motivated and enthused?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Tod, have you read this? You might wanna check it out.Report

  12. Llama says:

    Haha. So a Republican decries when Democrats do a political stunt? Please let me know have you denounced the tens of votes against Obamacare or the routine use of the filibuster by Republicans?Report

    • trizzlor in reply to Llama says:

      Actually Tod has written extensively about the issue of Republicans abandoning governance for crowd-pleasing and political grift. In fact, this very post explicitly says that Democrats are copying Republican tactics that should be beneath them.Report

  13. Chris says:

    "What the gun debate really needs is political theater in the service of scaremongering about terrorism." Democratic strategists— Chris (@MixingChris) June 23, 2016


  14. DavidTC says:

    Yeah, I don’t know how I feel about the Democrats basically adopting totally idiotic Republican tactics.

    1) This is a dumb and unconstitutional bill.
    2) There is no way it actually passing.
    3) Their behavior is entirely to get something to use against the Republicans.

    OTOH…they *should* have something to use against the Republicans on gun control. The Republicans are *really* out of step with the voters in that regard. Epicly out of step.

    And the sad thing is, in the current political climate, the actual *facts* of the matter don’t really matter. And part of this, ironically, is self-inflicted by the Republicans…if the Republicans had allowed the bill in, they could have, you know, modified it in sane ways, or whatever, and dismantled the stupidity. But that would require them actually paying attention to their own voters.

    I don’t *want* the House to operate this way, but I suspect that a) the Republicans will continue operating this way no matter what, and b) as long as the Republicans *do* operate this way, the only way for the Democrats to get control back and fix things is to operate the same way. (And even then I’d have issues if it wasn’t for Trump and how regaining control of the House became very important so we can impeach President Trump when he starts getting in fistfights with reporters and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars.)

    But I’d be much happier if they had done this with a *sane* gun control law. Or even something somewhat dumb, but not unconstitutional, like renewing the assault weapon ban.Report

  15. Michael Drew says:

    Let me just say in regards to Lewis’ role here: I do get that in his mind the point is The Point: namely that action of some kind should follow repeated violent events like this, and at some point inaction has to stop, even if it’s only ended through extremely marginal action. The problem is that if all you pursue is nowheresville policies that you don’t really think are the answer, you completely devalue your call for action. The call shouldn’t just be for something, anything to be done in response to these tragedies. The call should be for that which is right and necessary – especially because no actual legislation is at stake. Nothing is actually going to happen, so the point should be stating and standing up for what you really think should be done.

    It would be like if at Selma, Lewis had been standing for the proposition that only outright statutory denial of the right to vote, explicitly based on skin color must be ended. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and the like – Hey look how Reasonable we are, we’re not even calling for those to be ended!

    But John Lewis sees the situation here today differently, and he has more than earned the right to determine for himself how he sees it. Besides, I couldn’t ever blame an aging hero for giving in to a little bit of nostalgia for his heyday, anyway.Report