GOP Leader Wants To Fine Live Streaming Representatives

Democrats live streamed their sit-in from the House floor last June. The Speaker of the House has come up with a way to punish them if they do it again.

Representatives take to their phones during a sit-in last June — Rep. John Yarmuth/Twitter
Dec 28, 2016 at 11:46 AM ET

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may finally have an answer for the representatives who live-streamed their protest of the Republican-controlled Congress’s refusal to vote on a gun control bills after he ordered the official cameras to be turned off: penalties in the form of fines.

According to Bloomberg, Ryan is proposing fines for any representative who records from the House floor. The first offense would result in a $500 deduction from the offender’s paycheck. Subsequent offenses will cost him or her $2,500 each. The House’s Sergeant at Arms would be authorized to enforce these rules.

This is almost certainly a direct result of a Democrat-led sit-in on the House floor last June — shortly after 49 people were massacred and another 53 wounded by a gunman at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. After Ryan called for a recess, the House’s official cameras were turned off, ending C-SPAN’s feed of the House floor. The protesting representatives then grabbed their phones and started broadcasting on Facebook and Twitter’s live streaming platforms. Some of their streams even made it onto C-SPAN.

Bloomberg called it a “defining moment for social video” while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg posted that the streams were “bringing more openness to the political process.” It surely brought more attention and publicity to a protest that the public otherwise would not have seen. The sit-in ended without a vote on the bills after Republicans adjourned for a several-week recess.

Republicans had hoped to punish the protestors at the time — the broadcasts were already a violation of existing rules — but didn’t seem to know exactly how to do it. Despite threats, the protestors were never punished. This new rule would explicitly spell out that such broadcasts are a violation, the punishment for it, and authorize an officer of the House to carry it out. It’s part of a larger package of rules for the House that, according to Bloomberg, will be voted on on January 3.

The bill could be changed before then. If it goes through as currently written, it may face a constitutional challenge: According to Politico, because the bill authorizes the House’s Sergeant at Arms to issue the fines, it may violate Article 1 of the Constitution, which for 200 years has been interpreted to mean that the House has the authority to discipline representatives through a vote among its members — not delegate that job to an officer.

Either way, don’t expect a fine to scare Democrats off from staging a future sit-in. A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that “House Democrats will never stop speaking out against the daily tragedy of gun violence in this country.”