Ryan and fellow Republicans are trying to introduce a package of rules that will stop lawmakers from live-streaming from the floor, proving that the government is A) well into the 21st century and B) petty AF.
House Speaker and resident DILF Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is introducing a rules package that would penalize lawmakers for recording photo and video from the floor. A finalized version of the package will be voted on on Jan. 4. Shockingly, it’s not in response to Senator selfies or unflattering photos of frenemy lawmakers.
Actually, the package (hold for giggles) is in response to Democratic lawmakers who organized a sit-in after the Republican majority refused to bring a gun-control bill to the floor in the wake of the Orlando massacre at Pulse nightclub. Yeah, that gun-control bill, the one that would broaden background checks and prevent those on the no-fly list from buying guns. In response, angered and hurt, the Democrats organized a sit-in, which spanned 25 hours.
The Republican-controlled House called a recess during the sit-in and cut access to C-SPAN, which is in general super-boring but in this case provided coverage of the sit-in. Access is typically cut when the House is not in session, which is true in the case of a sit-in, but due to the nature of the sit-in, it seems the camera should’ve been kept on. In response, Democrats pulled out their iPhones and began live-streaming the sit-in, using apps like Facebook Live and Periscope. Angered and embarrassed, apparently the House Republicans have been trying to figure out how to make sure nothing like this happens again.
Enter Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker who is often hailed as the savior of the GOP. Part of the package (again, such a funny word) will give Ryan the personal authority to punish and fine individual lawmakers for breaking the rules. Previously, it was up to the House to punish lawmakers, in Article 1 of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to mean that sanctions are passed after being approved by the entire House with a floor vote. The sanctions for using photo or video would be a $500 fine for the first time, and $2,500 for each subsequent violation, taken out of the lawmaker’s pay.
Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the move “a power grab” by the GOP. Pelosi was previously the House Speaker from 2007 to 2011 when the Democrats held the majority, the first woman to hold the position.
The move could be ruled as potentially unconstitutional. Reinterpreting Article 1 to circumvent a full-House vote would give Ryan the individual power to pass sanctions. So if the Republican majority passes this package, that would be mucho ironic, since Republicans are the ones who are always against interpretation of the Constitution and are very pro to-the-letter (re same-sex marriage, women’s rights, abortion, etc.).
Ryan said that the package will “help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work.”
But here’s where things get a little sticky. Yes, the House has the right to pass sanctions on an individual lawmaker—when they have broken the law. And yes, House rules prohibit the use of photo or video on the floor (funnily enough, my house has the same rules). However, lawmakers are beholden not to the House, but to their constituents. So if they protest the failure of passage (to even discuss) a gun-control bill, in the wake of the largest U.S. mass shooting, they are protesting on behalf of their constituents.
Those constituents (i.e. you, me, and everyone) have the legal right to know what our elected officials are doing with our vote. Transparency in the government is often a fraught issue, but the fact is that those Democratic lawmakers were attempting to hold their Republican counterparts accountable even after official coverage was revoked.
So Democrats are stuck in between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they brought transparency to an issue that was being stifled, one that had incredible support outside the cosseted world of the government. On the other hand, they disregarded a prohibition. And equally, the Republicans are in a difficult spot: to discipline lawmakers who broke the rules, but dealing with the issue of transparency.
It seems to be a contradiction: transparency that breaks the rules. Do you follow the rules? Or do you follow what you believe to be right? I mean, we’re not talking about some serial killer who “believes” it’s right to make a necklace out of fingers. We’re talking about lawmakers who are trying to honor their constituents in the face of what they believed to be oppression.
And if Hamilton: An American Musical has taught us anything, it’s that “the Constitution’s a mess…it’s full of contradictions,” but “so is independence.” (I also quoted Hamilton in my “Early American Literature Until 1860” final essay; I did okay in that class).
I was personally bereaved and displeased that the gun-control bill was not passed. After the senseless massacre at Pulse, it seemed, to me, like a no-brainer. However, the Republican-held House blocked the bill from reaching the floor, where it would have been voted on. Obama was pissed, I was pissed, the nation was pissed. So in response, the Democrats reacted. It may not have been right, but it came from a place of righteous anger.
I am for greater transparency if I feel that my elected officials are not honoring the wishes of their constituents. That, too, seems like a no-brainer.