House Democrats are prepared to go to war over a new rule proposed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, according to a letter sent to Ryan late Thursday.
Reps. John Lewis and John Larson oppose the new rule that would allow the sergeant at arms of the House of Representatives to formally punish a member for taking a picture or video on the floor of the lower chamber of Congress. The pair wrote a letter outlining their opposition to the measure, which was a response to a sit-in over gun control Lewis staged last summer.
“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,” Lewis and Larson wrote to Ryan. “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.”
Reps. John Conyers, Louise Slaughter, Steve Cohen and Jerry Nadler all signed their support of the letter.
Democrats argue that the rule change is unconstitutional based on the fact that the House normally holds a vote before the governing body formally punishes a member for breaking a rule. Granting that ability to a single officer “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.”
Under current House rules, it is forbidden to take a picture or video of proceedings on the floor. Democrats used pictures taken on the floor of the House during the sit-in protest to raise funds for their respective campaigns.
Democrats led by Lewis promised to stage an additional protest over the matter if Republicans pass the rule change.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi slammed Ryan early Thursday, calling the move a “power grab.”
“While the American people worry for the financial security of their families, Republicans are opening the new Congress by turning their backs on the outside calls for help with an inside power grab in the House Rules,” Pelosi responded in a letter to constituents.
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