Remember the Democrats live-streaming their hourslong sit-in over gun control last year? The Republicans do, which is why they’ve voted to ban live-streaming from the House floor.
Anyone who live-streams will be fined $500 for the first offense, and $2,500 for subsequent offenses, according to new rules approved Tuesday along party lines. Still photos or audio broadcasts are also subject to the fines.
The Democrats don’t like it one bit.
“Today I rise to question the right of House Republicans to institute fines which may violate the First Amendment and have a chilling effect on members who disagree with the proceeding of this body,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a leader of the summer sit-in, said during an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote Tuesday. “I’m not afraid. I’ve been fined before. Many of us have been fined before. We cannot and will not be silenced.”
In June, Lewis led dozens of Democratic legislators in demanding a vote on some gun-control measures. When the Republicans called a recess, the House’s C-SPAN cameras were turned off. The Democratic lawmakers then used Periscope and Facebook Live to stream video from their sit-in, which lasted about a day. That video was then picked up by C-SPAN, raising the profile of live-streaming videos — which have now shown everything from sports to police shootings and other violence.
The new rules were proposed by Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans “to help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work,” AshLee Strong, a spokesman for Ryan, told Bloomberg News right before Christmas.
A letter sent Tuesday to Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, signed by more than 35 law professors and scholars, expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the rules.
“We write to express our strong concerns regarding provisions in H. Res. 5 that would authorize the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives to unilaterally punish and fine Members of the House for certain alleged infractions without any action by the full House,” the letter states.
In a joint statement last week after the rules were introduced, Democratic House Judiciary Committee members called them a “modern-day gag rule.” The statement also complained that the rules failed “to provide a Member any due process to contest the imposition of the fine before it is automatically deducted from the Member’s salary.”
A provision that gives lawmakers 30 days to appeal a fine was added by Republicans Monday night, Politico reports.
Photo: This image courtesy of Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s office shows Rep. Esty (second from left) with Rep. John Lewis, center, and other Democratic members of Congress staging a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on June 22, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Rep. Elizabeth Esty/AFP/Getty Images)