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Why They Didn’t Show Up to Sit In

The 11 Democrats who didn't participate in last week's gun control protest

Some 176 members of the House Democratic caucus – or 94 percent – took part in the sit-in last week to protest inaction on gun control legislation. (Courtesy Rep. John Yarmuth's Twitter page)
Some 176 members of the House Democratic caucus – or 94 percent – took part in the sit-in last week to protest inaction on gun control legislation. (Courtesy Rep. John Yarmuth's Twitter page)

Organizers said they started last week’s extraordinary sit-in on the House floor without knowing how many other House Democrats would join them to demand votes on legislation to tighten background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from buying weapons. By the time the protest ended, nearly 26 hours later, 176 members of the caucus — or 94 percent — had taken part in the demonstration.  


Gun Control Meets Congressional Dysfunction


Of the Democrats returning after July 4, these are the only 11 who did not come to the chamber. (Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia, freshly convicted of bribery and racketeering, was preparing to resign June 24, the morning after the protest ended.)  

Seven of those who stayed away have received campaign donations during this decade from the National Rifle Association, the most powerful group opposed to gun control. (The NRA’s political action committee has given to just four of Democrats who participated, and none of them since 2012: Brian Higgins of New York, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.)

Brad Ashford of Nebraska

His reasons: A spokesman said Ashford is for both types of gun control but not his colleagues’ methods. “He does not support shutting down Congress on any issue,” aide Joe Jordan said, “and he is concerned that this tactic will be used in the future by the far-right to advance issues he does not agree with.”  

Worth noting: Ashford is one of only five Democrats currently representing a district (it’s based in Omaha) that went Republican for president in 2012, and he’s only the slightest favorite to win a second term this fall against Don Bacon, a retired Air Force general.

Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia

His reasons: “The right to own and use guns is not absolute or free from government regulation,” he said in a statement, but none of the bills under discussion at the time of the protest were “consistent with civil liberties such as due process, equal protection, freedom from unlawful searches and privacy.”   

Worth noting: Bishop, a safe bet for a 13th term representing rural southwestern Georgia, has taken $18,750 from the NRA’s political action committee since 2011 — more than any other Democrat now in Congress.

Henry Cuellar of Texas

His reason : He said that, while supporting “the principle of keeping guns out of the hand of terrorists, I felt my constituents were best served by my continuing to work and maintain my pre-existing schedule. I believe in the sanctity of the House chamber and its rules and feel regular order and conversations on a bi-partisan level are the best way to achieve change for my district.”  

Worth noting: Laredo’s congressman is the only other Democrat beside Bishop who’s received NRA money for his 2016 race, and he’s taken $6,150 in the current and previous three cycles. He opposed President Barack Obama’s wishes on 31 percent of floor votes last year, more than any other House Democrat.

Gene Green of Texas

His reason: His office issued a statement declaring Green’s support for both “no fly, no buy” legislation and expanding background checks. It also said he endorsed “the members’ right to sit in.” A spokesman said he could not explain why, given those two declarations, the congressman did not participate in the protest. (He attended all but one roll call during the protest.)  

Worth noting: Six years ago was the last time the NRA gave a check (for $2,000) to Green, who’s had no trouble holding his Houston-area seat since 1992.

Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota

His reason: His office said the congressman stayed away because he opposes all the gun control measures his colleagues were talking about — the watch list restrictions because they would infringe on due process rights and the background check bills because they would cover private transactions.  

Worth noting: Peterson has been among the most conservative House Democrats since his arrival in 1991, which has helped him survive in reliably Republican territory. Last year, he voted with the GOP on two-fifths of the roll calls that divided mostly along party lines, the most of anyone in his caucus. In his previous three campaigns he received a combined $9,950 from the NRA, and he’s been backing its wishes since the first key gun vote of his career — against the assault weapons ban of 1994. 

Jared Polis of Colorado

His reason: There’s no doubt he would have participated had he returned to Washington in time, because of his fondness for high-publicity Democratic messaging efforts and his many sponsorships of gun control legislation. But Polis missed all nine votes in the House on Wednesday night because he was back in his district, mainly so he could take an out-front role in hosting the Dalai Lama during a round of appearances Thursday on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  

Worth noting : Polis then caught a flight to Washington too late for the sit-in, but in time to suit up for the 55th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

Loretta Sanchez of California

Her reason: Asked why she was absent from the Capitol last week, her office initially said she was on a trade mission in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain. But that trip ended five days before the protest began. After officials in Gibraltar, on the southern Spanish coast, posted photographs with her on Twitter, Sanchez’s office said she decided to stay in Spain until Thursday  

Worth noting: Sanchez is the underdog for an open Senate seat against state Attorney General Kamala Harris. (Both Democrats are on the November ballot because of the state’s open primary law.) Harris has criticized the Orange County congresswoman’s mixed record on guns, particularly her 2005 vote for a law granting gun makers immunity from lawsuits based on the misuse of their products.

Kurt Schrader of Oregon

His reason: “I understand and greatly respect the passion of my colleagues,” he said in a statement, but “this is an issue that should be above partisanship and I remain hopeful that there is still an opportunity for members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to come together.” The statement made clear he’s wary of all the background check and “no fly, no buy” bills under discussion.  

Worth noting : A veterinarian and farmer, Schrader has a reputation as one of the more independent-minded members of the caucus since he was first elected from the Willamette Valley in 2008. The NRA donated $3,000 in 2012 and $2,000 in 2014.

Mark Takai of Hawaii

His reason: Honolulu’s congressman, who turns 49 on Friday, has missed all but a handful of votes on the floor since announcing in the middle of May that he was abandoning his campaign for a second term — because pancreatic cancer, diagnosed in October, had metastasized despite surgery and chemotherapy treatment.

Filemon Vela of Texas

His reason: He said he avoided the protest because he worried it might stray beyond gun control. He also signaled in a statement that he’d be open to only modest restrictions, and only if paired with “plans to deal with the rise of terrorist-inspired incidents on U.S. soil and a critical review of our nation’s law enforcement policies that would ensure that people (like the Orlando terrorist) are identified and prosecuted before they ever commit such horrific crimes.”  

Worth noting: The NRA donated $1,000 to Vela’s first campaign to become the Rio Grande Valley’s congressman, in 2012, but hasn’t given him money since.

Tim Walz of Minnesota

His reason: He stayed in his home state all last week after his younger brother, Craig, was killed and a teenage nephew was critically injured during a Father’s Day camping trip. High winds during a sudden late-night storm sent a tree crashing down on their encampment by a lake in far northeastern Minnesota. (Craig Walz was a high school math and chemistry teacher; his brother taught high school geography before winning in a huge congressional upset a decade ago. Both were also their schools’ football coaches.)  

Worth Noting:  Personal tragedy aside, Walz has been very resistant to gun control legislation in his congressional career, and the NRA has rewarded him with $11,950 in PAC donations since 2010.

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