WASHINGTON (AP) — Exhausted but exuberant, House Democrats vowed to fight on for gun control Thursday as they ended their high-drama House floor sit-in with songs, prayers and defiant predictions of success. Republicans offered a dose of political reality, denying House Democratic demands and holding a Senate vote designed to show a bipartisan gun compromise can’t pass.
“They’re staging protests. They’re trying to get on TV. They’re sending out fundraising solicitations,” House Speaker Paul Ryan complained in an angry denunciation of the Democrats’ 25-hour occupation of the Capitol chamber. “If this is not a political stunt, then why are they trying to raise money off of this, off of a tragedy?”
Ryan said the House would not be giving in to Democrats’ calls for votes on legislation expanding background checks for gun buyers and keeping people on the no-fly list from getting guns in the wake of the Orlando shooting. And in the Senate, GOP leaders scheduled a vote on a bipartisan compromise by moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, but only to show the “no-fly” legislation does not command the 60 votes needed to pass.
A visibly deflated Collins suggested Senate leaders were intentionally draining support from her bill by allowing a GOP alternative to also come to a vote.
“Let us not miss an opportunity to get something done,” she pleaded on the Senate floor prior to the 52-46 vote. But Republican leaders, unmoved, were ready to move on.
“I think we need to be engaged in something more constructive that would have actually stopped shooters like the Orlando shooter,” said the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas.
Yet while they may have lost the legislative battles at hand, Democrats on both sides of the Capitol were congratulating themselves on a remarkable success in gaining attention for their demands for action to curb the widespread availability of firearms, first by a 15-hour Senate filibuster last week and then with their extraordinary occupation of the House floor.
That latest effort broke up around midday Thursday after going through the night, even after Ryan moved up the Fourth of July recess and gaveled a chaotic House out of session in the early morning hours. Democrats chanted, “Shame! Shame!” and “No bill, no break.”
On Thursday Democrats streamed onto the steps of the East Front of the Capitol, where cheering crowds welcomed them with cries of “We’re with you!” under humid skies. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon who helped lead the sit-in, urged the crowd not to give up and to vote in the fall elections.
“We’re going to win,” Lewis declared. “The fight is not over. This is just one step.”
Lewis’ voice was firm as he evoked phrases from the civil rights movement, but the 76-year-old also showed his age and the hours of protest as members around him called “Help him up” as he stood on a makeshift podium to speak.
For hours on the floor of the House, Lewis had led members in delivering speeches that mixed victory declarations with promises not to back down in their drive to curb firearm violence. Placards with photos of gun victims were prominently displayed. As night wore into morning some members rested with pillows and blankets, sustaining themselves with snacks sent over by allied Democrats in the Senate.
The public could see it all, because even after Republicans shut off the cameras in the House chamber, Democrats began recording the action on their cellphones, and C-SPAN and other networks carried the feeds. It was not the first time the minority in the House commandeered the floor, but was the first time social media allowed the world to see it, giving Democrats a public relations success and a megaphone.
Democrats said public opinion is with them and will shift votes on the issue over time. The National Rifle Association disputed that. In an interview, Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said of Collins’ bill: “What the vote today showed was she doesn’t have 60 votes, and the reason she doesn’t have 60 is because it’s an unconstitutional approach” lacking an effective appeal process for people denied guns.
Pressure has built on Capitol Hill following the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando this month that killed 49 people and injured 53 others. The assailant also died. The attack followed other violent incidents over the past years including the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick, Sarah Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to this report.