House GOP proposes new fines in response to Democrats' gun sit-in

house democrats sit in lewis sot_00005208
house democrats sit in lewis sot_00005208

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Story highlights

  • Unprecedented use of social media from a sit-in earlier this year gained national attention
  • The rules package for the 115th Congress doesn't penalize any of those Democrats

(CNN)House Republican leaders are proposing new fines as a way to crack down on Members of Congress who violate rules governing floor debate.

The move is a response to Democrats' sit-in in June protesting the refusal of the GOP to schedule votes on gun control measures.
That protest halted legislative business and forced GOP leaders to cut short the week's planned votes. The GOP leadership, which controls the cameras in the chamber, recessed the House and shut down official coverage, but Democrats turned to livestreaming tools like Periscope and Facebook Live to broadcast dozens of members making speeches from the House floor.
    The unprecedented use of social media from the sit-in gained national attention, but didn't result in any action on gun bills. Rank and file Republicans, irritated at the flagrant disregard for decorum rules, pressured leaders to punish the rule breakers, saying letting it go would only encourage more disruptions in the future.
    The rules package for the 115th Congress doesn't penalize any of those Democrats who participated in the summer protest, but it includes a provision imposing a $500 fine for any House member who uses electronic photography or audio recording that broadcasts any proceedings from the House floor in the future. For any additional violation the fine would be increase to $2,500 per offense and the money would be taken out of a member's salary.
    House Democrats continue to be unapologetic for their strategy that effectively allowed them to take over the House floor. They disregarded those presiding over the chamber who cut off the session and instead remained in an empty chamber filming their protest on social media, which news outlets used in reports, even after being warned repeatedly they were out of order.
    House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi taunted Republicans earlier this year as GOP leaders mulled over option for retaliation, saying, "make my day."
    Top Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly denounced those involved in the sit-in, but struggled on how to respond. Multiple GOP aides acknowledged to CNN that slapping a high profile penalty on someone like civil right icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who led the protest, could only bring more attention to the issue, and potentially prompt a repeat of the tactic.
    This week Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hamill blasted Republican leaders for making the first votes in the new session in January about the new fines. He vowed Democrats would continue to speak out on the gun issue.
    "House Republicans continue to act as the handmaidens of the gun lobby refusing to pass sensible, bipartisan legislation to expand background checks and keep guns out of the hands of terrorists," Hamill said in a written statement Tuesday.
    Democrats are already questioning the way the new rule creating fines is drafted, saying it designates one House staffer -- the sergeant at arms -- to enforce penalties rather than requiring a vote by the full House of Representatives.
    "We are reviewing this language as it appears to raise constitutional concerns," Hammill told CNN on Wednesday.