Politics

A sit-in in Congress because, well, why not

It’s been over 24 hours and House Democrats are still hanging out on the floor, boosting C-Span ratings to record levels (i.e. not much). First off, regardless of any issue, I have to say kudos, that’s a long time, and some of you are like, really old.

At least a few lawmakers dozed off, according to Ted Deutch, a Democratic congressman from Florida. “There were definitely some people sleeping,” he said, adding that he wasn’t going to name any names. “I have not pulled an all-nighter in quite a while,” Deutch said. “It’s certainly my first one on the House floor.”

Aww, Congressional sleepover!

Republicans obviously aren’t pleased.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s disdain for Democrats’ sit-in is clear: “I don’t think this should be a very proud moment for democracy or for the people who stage these stunts.”

They also stand by the argument that gun control bills to restrict buying for those on the no fly list is a violation of civil rights, and also stand by the NRA cash they’re getting on any of the other measures.

Not that those on the left haven’t complained, too. Quite a few have noted that the political theater is for a bill that’s not worth it:

Perhaps such a bill makes political sense as a sort of desperate attempt to get something through a conservative-dominated Congress. But if it is, as it appears to be, more of an effort to highlight the unpopular extremism of Republicans on gun issues, it is a stupid and counterproductive hill to theatrically die on.

Fair enough. The “no fly, no buy” legislation does reek of rights violations. And maybe this isn’t even the best way to pass gun control measures (which you know is a big thing for me). Plus, Ryan and others have accused them of doing it all for fundraising (and you guys obeying the NRA are…?).

All that said, I approve all this drama.

First off, it’s kind of entertaining. It draws us away from the Hillary vs. Donald campaign, which is overrated and which we’re going to get plenty of over the next 5 months, and to the institution that, I think, is really our problem.

Second, this gun debate pops up every time there is a shooting and we can’t seem to decide whether we ought to do something or nothing, being split down the middle. In addition to the pain of tragedy, we keep going through the pain of the debating. Us gun control advocates don’t seem to be getting anywhere with gun rights advocates, and gun rights advocates don’t seem to be getting anywhere with gun control advocates. It was time to bring this to a head.

Third, Republicans pulled this same exact shit a few years ago when they shut down the government. Shut down the House? Who cares? You guys are on vacation until July 4, and that’s not even the big vacation (August)! Shut down the government? Workers don’t get paid, D.C. doesn’t get trash service, votes aren’t held, faith in the system plummets. Now, of course it’s immature–and don’t act, with Trump as GOP frontrunner, like government affairs are anything but immature these days–to respond tit-for-tat, but this doesn’t even rise to that level. Yes, Speaker Ryan is correct that this sets a bad precedent, if you mean sit-ins. But the precedent has already kind of been set, if we’re talking about disruptive behaviors.

Fourth, it’s got something done. Just not what one would expect–the Republicans got a deal done on funding to combat the Zika virus, which President Obama has been waiting a while for. Of course, the White House says “This plan from congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus and steals funding from other health priorities.”

Fifth, and ultimately my main point, it’s not like Congress has been a well-mannered legislature historically. The whole thing reminds me of the epic fight that took place in the 1850s in the Senate over slavery:

Brooks decided to teach Charles Sumner a lesson he would not soon forget. Two days after the end of Sumner’s speech, Brooks entered the Senate chamber where Sumner was working at his desk. He flatly told Sumner, “You’ve libeled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, and I’ve come to punish you for it.” Brooks proceeded to strike Sumner over the head repeatedly with a gold-tipped cane. The cane shattered as Brooks rained blow after blow on the hapless Sumner, but Brooks could not be stopped. Only after being physically restrained by others did Brooks end the pummeling.

Canefight

No, I don’t think gun rights are akin to slavery, and I don’t think we’re barreling towards civil war (nor am I endorsing members of Congress beating the shit out of each other to get things done, although that would make C-Span a nice complement to WWE). But sometimes drama–taking abrupt, physical action–on the floor of the legislature signals loud and clear that something’s not working. And something is not working, as the government shutdown, near-defaults on the debt, the inability to pass a simple highway bill, the general gridlock, money in politics, the perceived need for executive orders, and inordinate attention heaped on the presidential race all demonstrate.

Bring the drama, and bring the attention. Is it going to get a reasonable gun control bill passed? Maybe, maybe not. But whatever the issue, it’s probably needed.

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