In the News

Republicans and Democrats are set to begin 2017 with a political battle over rules proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, that would penalize lawmakers who live-stream from the House of Representatives floor as some did during a sit-in protest that went viral on social media last summer.

Details of the proposed new rules emerged over the weekend and they prompted strong reactions from House Democrats, including San Diego’s Scott Peters, who on Tuesday called it “pretty outrageous.” In a tweet, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, said, “Bring.It.On.”

The proposed rules stem from a 25-hour sit-in protest staged by Peters and several other Democrats including Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, on the House floor in June. At the time, they objected to Republican lawmakers’ decision to not allow a vote on gun-control legislation that would have restricted gun sales from people on no-fly lists.

Once the C-SPAN cameras inside the chambers were turned off at Republican officials’ behest, some of those staging the protest turned to live-streaming apps like Periscope and Facebook Live to broadcast the events, which is against House rules. The live video went viral on social media and C-SPAN and other television stations began broadcasting the streams.

Ryan is now proposing that lawmakers face a fine of $500 for a first-time violation of using a device to broadcast video, audio or photo recording from the chamber floor, with $2,500 fines for subsequent offenses, according to a report from Bloomberg.

A spokesperson for Ryan told Politico that the new rules “will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work.”

But Peters and others didn’t buy it. 

In a statement, Peters told the Union-Tribune that Congress should pursue other issues more important to the American people instead of imposing “anti-transparency rules.”

"It is pretty outrageous that the speaker will take these steps to create barriers between the people and their government, but won't even let us take a vote to curb the awful gun violence that plagues our country,” Peters wrote. “It's well beyond time for Congress to figure out appropriate and respectful ways to engage and empower citizens with their often too insular government.”

“If my 21st century-approach doesn't work for Speaker Ryan, I would love to hear his alternatives,” Peters added.

Similar objections echoed on Twitter, where some people went as far as offering to help crowdfund money to pay for the fines of those lawmakers who dared break the rules.

Political grandstanding has long been common in Congress. Some filibusters and other types of protest are about grabbing attention, not blocking or supporting legislation. But on Jan. 3, when lawmakers vote on the new rules, Democrats are likely to argue that what Peters and others did last summer was about government transparency and was no stunt.

Will Republicans buy this argument by allowing the use of live-streaming technology in the House? Or will they convince Democrats and other critics that rules serve a constructive purpose, even if they limit transparency?