By Deirdre Walsh, Manu Raju, Eric Bradner and Steven Sloan
WASHINGTON — The Republicans tried to shut it down, but the Democrats’ nearly day-long sit-in protesting the lack of action on gun control was still going Thursday and showed no signs of letting up.
In the middle of the night, House Republicans had sought to end an extraordinary day of drama and what has become a 22-hour sit-in by adjourning for a recess that will last through July 5.
The move was an effort to shut down a protest that began Wednesday morning in reaction to the massacre in Orlando when Democrats took over the House floor and tried to force votes on gun control. But shortly after 7:00 a.m., about 20 Democrats still remained on the floor, including House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and they were determined to continue.
A police officer told the Democrats that they will be conducting a daily security sweep. “I’d ask that you clear the floor while that happens,” the officer said.
Pelosi responded: “That’s not going to happen” and the security check then took place involving five agents and a dog as the House Democratic leader continued speaking, undeterred.
At one point during the morning, Pelosi said the sit-in would continue “until hell freezes over.”
New York Rep. Steve Israel said the Democrats would stay on the floor until “at least” 11:15 a.m.
“That would be the 24 hour mark,” he said on “New Day.” “We will be in session, what is called a proforma session tomorrow, a couple of days next week. We’re going to continue to use every tool in the toolbox to keep the issue alive.”
Democratic leaders were planning to meet later Thursday morning to decide how to proceed.
Although Republicans leaders shut off House cameras, Democrats were continuing Thursday morning to livestream their activities on the House floor. Rep. Mark Takano plugged his phone into an external power source, set it on top of a chair facing the podium, and was streaming on his Facebook page even though he’d left the chamber to appear on CNN’s “New Day.”
“New Day” broadcast his livestream and asked Takano about it. “We’re going to stay,” the California Democrat said.
Shortly after 8:00 a.m. Florida Rep. Ted Deutch gave an impassioned speech on the floor.
“I am tired, I am cold, and I am hungry. Let me remind everyone watching how privileged I am to be tired, cold, and hungry,” he said. “These are feelings that I am privileged to have because so many will never feel that again,” referring to victims of gun violence.
Hours earlier, the GOP bid to undermine the sit-in by swiftly closing the legislative session in the middle of the night had appeared to catch Democrats off guard. But Democrats promised to continue — without cameras, lights or a legislative session.
“Just because they have left, it doesn’t mean we have to take no as an answer,” Pelosi said.
What’s unclear is exactly how Democrats will continue their effort.
They could keep their protest going on a smaller scale between now and July 5, and they vowed to restart the effort in full once the House returns in July.
“When we come back in July, we will start all over again,” Lewis said.
“We made some progress. We crossed one bridge, but we have other bridges to cross,” he said just after 3:30 a.m., calling the effort “a major down payment on ending gun violence in America.”
Overall, more than 170 Democrats took part in the sit in, lawmakers said.
“It is late,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said at 3:36 a.m., just after leaving the floor. “The House is adjourned.”
He added, “We will be back … The Republicans have left in the dead of night with business unfinished.”
Republicans said earlier that they wouldn’t give Democrats the gun control votes they wanted.
“Democrats can continue to talk, but the reality is that they have no end-game strategy,” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement. “The Senate has already defeated the measure they’re calling for. The House is focused on eliminating terrorists, not constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. And no stunts on the floor will change that.”
The tension exploded onto the floor just after 10 p.m. ET when Ryan gaveled the chamber into order to hold a procedural vote on an unrelated matter. A dramatic scene unfolded as throngs of Democrats — some holding signs with the names of victims of gun violence — remained in the House well, chanting “no bill, no break” and “shame shame shame.” They also sang the protest anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
Such displays would normally be prohibited, but Ryan, sensitive to the attention being paid to the sit-in, declined to enforce the traditional order in the House.
The House returned to session around 1 a.m. Thursday and again after 2:30 a.m. to hold another series of votes, prompting further objections from sit-in participants.
The political world started Wednesday focused on insults flying between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But the sit-in refocused attention on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have been unable to act on gun control legislation in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. And Lewis, 76, perhaps the most prominent of the 1960s-era civil rights leaders still alive, said it reminded him of his early days protesting to end segregation.
“We’re going to continue to sit in and sit down,” he said Wednesday night. “By sitting in and sitting down, we’re standing up.”
Ahead of the vote, dozens of Democratic House members gathered around Hoyer as he equated their sit-in with the civil rights protests led by figures like Lewis and Rep. Jim Clyburn five decades ago.
“We stand here saying Paul Ryan, help give us the right to vote on these two bills, make America safer!” Hoyer said.
As the two sides raced to the night-time showdown in the House, staff brought in food, pillows and even sleeping bags. Lawmakers announced they had brought in battery packs to keep the livestream on Periscope going through the night.
“I think we are going to work through the evening!” Clyburn promised to cheers.
The U.S. House controls the cameras on its floor, so live video footage was not available during the sit-in, which occurred while the House was in recess, though many lawmakers tweeted images or streamed live video via smartphones.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Ryan dismissed the sit-in effort as a “publicity stunt.” Behind closed doors, he promised Republicans they would vote on an unrelated veto override measure and Zika funding legislation.
The sit-in follows the shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub earlier this month that killed 49 people — the deadliest incident of gun violence in American history. The shooting is renewing the debate over gun control legislation, which seems poised to go nowhere in Congress. The Senate blocked several gun measures Monday even as a CNN/ORC poll this week found that public support for changes such as tighter background checks hovers around 90 percent.
Several Republican congressmen criticized the sit-in as a political stunt.
“Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s,” Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina tweeted. “They sat-in for rights. Dems are ‘sitting-in’ to strip them away.”
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan tweeted, “Democrats are staging a sit-in on the House floor. They refuse to leave until our Constitution replaces due process with secret lists.”
As the sit-in continued, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the opportunity to fundraise, with Pelosi telling supporters, “I need 6,000 gifts in the door during tonight’s sit-in. Will you pitch in $1?”
The sit-in evoked memories of a protest by House Republicans in August 2008 to push for a vote on offshore drilling. When Pelosi, then the House speaker, adjourned the House for Congress’ summer recess, a handful of House GOP members remained as the lights and microphones inside the chamber were turned off and House cameras, controlled by the speaker’s office, were switched off.
‘This is leadership’
Democrats rallied behind the sit-in. Some, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, joined the sit-in while others delivered snacks and sodas.
Lewis was also encouraged by President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
“Thank you John Lewis for leading on gun violence where we need it most,” Obama tweeted.
Clinton tweeted his praise, writing, “This is leadership” and linking to Lewis’ tweet about the sit-in.
Lewis organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters after being inspired to join Martin Luther King Jr.’s crusade for equality and eventually led the mass march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday in 1965, one of the epochal events in American history. Lewis was beaten so badly by Alabama state troopers that they fractured his skull.
Democratic brass, who have struggled mightily to find support for gun control measures, streamed through the House chamber throughout the day. More than 100 House Democrats took part in the sit-in and a steady stream of Senate Democrats walked across the Capitol to join in the protest.
As Wasserman Schultz recounted reading the resignation letter from former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was wounded in a shooting in 2011, from the same House lectern four years ago, she began tearing up.
“No more Auroras, no more Orlandos!” she shouted, to a standing ovation. Pelosi, who led Hillary Clinton into a meeting with congressional Democrats just hours before the sit-in began, stood and applauded with the other Democratic congressmen and senators gathered in the chamber.
And later, as Wasserman Schultz got up to leave, Lewis hugged her.
As the sit-in gathered momentum, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a prominent gun control advocate following the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, walked over and joined the sit-in. The lawmaker led a nearly 15-hour filibuster in the Senate last week asking lawmakers to vote on gun reform. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin also joined the group.
Pelosi joined a couple dozen gun control activists Wednesday afternoon on the steps of the Capitol and vowed Democrats would continue until Ryan scheduled a vote.
One activist, a mother who held a picture of her daughter who was killed in a gun incident, urged people to call the speaker’s office, and said he was listening to the gun lobby instead of citizens.
“Green paper is more valuable than red blood,” the activist shouted, suggesting contributions from gun rights groups were influencing GOP leaders’ decisions.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the lawmakers participating in the sit-in were showing the kind of “frustration and even anger that people around the country have about the inability of the Republican-led Congress to take common sense steps that would protect the American people.”
“I think they’re resorting to what I think even they would acknowledge is an extraordinary step to change the status quo in the House of Representatives that prevents even consideration of common sense gun safety legislation,” Earnest said.
By Wednesday night, Democrats were digging in for the long haul and discussing the potential of remaining on the floor through Friday. California Rep. Judy Chu tweeted a photo of pizza boxes that she says were sent by Californians, and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, tweeted a photo of her clutching a pillow, suggesting she was ready to spend the night in the House chamber.
Asked what would happen if Republican leaders turn off the lights in the chamber, Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky simply replied, “it will be dark.”
CNN’s Tom LoBianco, Betsy Klein and Stephen Collinson contributed to this report.