House leadership moves to prevent future sit-ins through rule change

House Democrats occupied the chamber’s floor for 26-hours in June in a move characterized by the right as diversionary. (Photo: U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty)

House Democrats occupied the chamber’s floor for 26-hours in June in a move characterized by the right as diversionary. (Photo: U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty)

A pending rule change for the new U.S. Congress could see lawmakers fined for taking pictures on the House floor such as during a recent sit-in by Democrats stumping for gun control.

The proposed rules package by House Republicans — in strong control of the chamber — would authorize fines of $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for subsequent violations to be taken directly from the salary of representatives who take video or photos on the chamber floor. Further, those who engage in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” would be reported to the House Ethics Committee for possible sanction.

“These changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work,” said AshLee Strong, a spokesman for Republican Speaker Paul Ryan.

In June, 40 House Democrats led by civil rights-era activist Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., seized the floor to force a vote on gun control measures in the wake of the Pulse nightclub terror attack in Orlando. Though recessed by GOP leaders who termed the sit-in a publicity stunt, the Dems gave speeches and held a rally complete with handheld signs while streaming their actions via social media. After Ryan sent lawmakers home on summer vacation, sit-in participants threw in the towel after a 26 hour run without gaining a vote.

For their part, some Democrats such as California Rep. Eric Swalwell chaffed at the proposed fines, saying House GOP members could fine him “all the way into bankruptcy” in a series of posts to social media.

“Sadly, the first action of the new Congress will be the passage of rules changes targeting Democratic Members who participated in the 25-hour sit-in following the horrific Pulse shooting in Orlando that killed 49 and wounded more than 50,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a statement. “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.”

The proposed rules package will be voted on in January when the 115th Congress meets for the first time. Republicans will hold a 241-94 majority.