Democrats might defy a newly imposed ban on recording video from the floor of the House of Representatives, a rule change that Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver charges is aimed at punishing lawmakers like himself for staging a gun control sit-in last year.
House Republicans voted on Tuesday to impose fines of $500 to $2,500 on any fellow lawmakers who record or broadcast video from the floor.
During the sit-in in June, Democratic members of Congress used their mobile devices to broadcast footage of the protest after Republicans turned off the C-SPAN cameras.
Cleaver, who participated in the sit-in, said his Republican colleagues clearly meant the video ban to be retaliatory.
“When people have such powerful numbers in the House and the Senate and the White House the temptation is always there to overreach and to say, ‘Let’s give it to ’em,’” Cleaver said. “And I think we’ll find out, sooner rather than later, that can come back to bite.”
House Democrats, he said, aren’t necessarily going to obey the new rule. Many see it as a violation of lawmakers’ right to free expression.
The minority party might bring civil disobedience tactics into play again in the new Congress “if an issue comes up that we believe in, and we believe we have the moral high ground,” Cleaver said.
“You gotta remember the person who led us was (civil rights icon) John Lewis,” he said. “It was illegal for John Lewis to walk down the street. He has a plate in his head as a result of that, and he would still do it again.”
Lewis gave a defiant speech from the House floor on Tuesday to protest the new rule against recordings.
“I am not afraid,” said Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia. “I’ve been fined before. Many of us have been fined before. In the ’60s I was arrested, jailed 40 times, beaten, left bloody and unconscious on the march from Selma to Montgomery.”
No congress or committee has the power to tell elected officials they can’t stand up and speak truth to power, he said.
“We have a right to dissent. We have a right to protest for what is right, regardless of rules or no rules,” Lewis said. “We will not be silent.”