Welcome one and all to the brand-new, official, real life website of West Wing, Best Wing! Like the Italian sculptors of yore, I have found myself a patron who gave me the funds necessary to make this blog official.
For my inaugural post, I was going to write about abortion. On Monday, the Supreme Court will be handing down a decision on Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, and their decision on this could impact abortion laws across the country. But then I remembered that I've already written that post. Several times. And I promise to write another one explaining the decision when it is released on Monday.
Instead, I thought I would talk about the sit-in that was started yesterday. First a filibuster, now a sit-in, seems like the Democrats will try anything to force any sort of vote on gun control. Starting on Wednesday at 11am, several members of the Democratic Party demanded a vote be taken on gun control measures before the House adjourned for recess. Specifically, the House wanted vote on a bill that would prevent people on the no-fly list from buying guns.
As hills-to-die on go, this is not a great one. The no-fly list is not large, and preventing people on it from buying guns likely would not be effective in preventing future mass shootings. If they wanted a bill that would actually pass, this wasn't the bill to pick, as the measure was already defeated by the Senate. On top of all of that, the no-fly list is being challenged across the country as an unconstitutional practice, since people on them have no way to challenge their inclusion. So if you're on the no-fly list (as Representative John Lewis (D-GA) reportedly was) you have no way to appeal that decision. Finally, there's some racism that plays into the no-fly list, and I'm not even sure I need a link to prove that to you. Here's one anyway.
Are there better, more effective, less racist gun control measures out there? You bet! But just like Senator Chris Murphy's filibuster, this sit-in was largely symbolic. No bills were actually passed, but I do not think this is the last we will see of Congressional protest around gun control. After all, Representative John Lewis didn't integrate lunch counters the first time he organized a sit-in.
Which brings me to the Congressional Sit-In. This was a highly unusual political move, born out of necessity, as the House doesn't give the minority party the same rights the Senate does. There can be no filibusters in the House, as Representatives often have limited speaking time, and are not allowed to monopolize the floor. Because of that, Democrats staged the sit-in, prompting Republicans to declare a recess very soon after the sit-in began, and turn off the cameras and microphones in the House.
The live television feed of Congress, which has marginally more viewers than the static your TV makes after it's been on too long, only runs when the House is officially in session. Tech-savvy Democrats took to the live-streaming app Periscope (shout out to Representatives Beto O'Rourke of Texas and Scott Peters of California) and filmed the action themselves. C-SPAN carried it as if it were normal House coverage, with the caveat that the actual cameras had been turned off.
At 3am on Thursday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) took control of the House floor, and pushed through the passage of an appropriations bill without any debate. The appropriations bill included 1.1 million dollars to fight the Zika virus, and is unlikely to pass the Senate. The Speaker then declared a recess and left the chamber, leaving the Democrats to their sit-in.
The next afternoon, after it became clear that no vote would be held on gun control measures, the Democrats ended the sit-in, but not before they reassured everyone that the fight was just beginning. The crowd at the press conference even sang the civil rights protest song "We Shall Overcome" with updated lyrics about passing a bill someday. On a related note, if you want to read 70 pages about We Shall Overcome, and other protest songs, my thesis is right here.
As I touched on last week, these symbolic acts have power. The bill they were fighting for wasn't perfect, and it didn't pass, but between this and the filibuster, the conversation on gun control in this country might be just getting started. If the Democrats continue to use civil disobedience to force the conversation, so much the better. A robust, sustained debate on gun control that could even result in some bills is the type of good trouble that this country needs.