House Democrats are planning an all out fight against a GOP proposal that would punish House members who take video or photos on the House floor. The proposal is in response to last year’s gun control sit-in in which Democrats live streamed the protest.
House Representative John Lewis and John Larson likened the measure to fine lawmakers up to $2,500 for live-streaming floor protests to “Putin’s Russia” in a letter sent to Speaker Paul Ryan. Several senior House Democrats plan to release a statement on Friday morning calling the measure an “unconstitutional gag rule,” according to Politico.
“This kind of strong-arm tactic is what one might see in Putin’s Russia, but is incredibly disheartening to see proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Larson and Lewis wrote Thursday evening.
“House Republican leadership, as one of its first priorities for the incoming Congress, seeks to impose a modern day and unconstitutional gag rule to restrict the First Amendment rights of members to protest and engage in other forms of expression on the House floor as well as deny them due process,” reads the statement by House Democrats.
The rules change, they continued, “clearly is intended to undermine the rights of members in the minority to freely express their views on the House floor, which is a critical means by which members communicate to the American public.”
Civil rights icon John Lewis and John Larson led the 25-hour sit-in last June, when Democrats hijacked the House floor, protesting Speaker Ryan’s refusal to allow a vote on gun-control legislation following the Orlando nightclub shooting.
Republicans were angry and have been drawing up plans to stop Democrats from doing something similar in the future. The proposed House rules change must be approved by the full House. If passed, under the new rules House members would be punished for taking photos or videos. The rules would give the sergeant-at-arms the power to fine lawmakers up to $2,500.
The measure appears to raise constitutional questions because the House typically must vote to sanction lawmakers. The proposal essentially gives this power to a single House official and does not appear to give lawmakers the right to appeal the verdict.