Republicans branded the move as a publicity stunt before summarily adjourning the chamber until after the Fourth of July.
Even after the House adjourned early yesterday Democrats stayed on, shouting “No bill no break!” and waving papers with the names of gun victims written in black. Maxine Waters of California said she was ready to stay “until Hell freezes over”.
With a crowd cheering them on from outside the Capitol and many more following on social media, Democrats declared success in dramatising the argument for action to stem gun violence.
“Just because they cut and run in the dark of night, just because they have left doesn’t mean we are taking no for an answer,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“We won’t stop until the job is done,” the Californian declared to fellow Democrats camped out in the well of the House in the early hours of the morning, saying the party had changed “the dynamic of what happens” concerning guns.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the public shouldn’t be happy with a Republican majority that shut down the House and disregarded “the unfinished business of the American people”.
Republicans fiercely resisted the pressure, saying their colleagues had accomplished nothing other than disrupting the business of the House. Speaker Paul Ryan called it “a publicity stunt”.
Pressure had been building on both sides of the Capitol in the wake of the shooting at a Florida nightclub earlier this month that killed 49 people and injured 53 others. The mass shooting followed similar tragic incidents over the past years including the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
The protest began around 11:30am on Wednesday and by evening, 168 House Democrats – out of 188 – and 34 Senate Democrats joined the protest. One after another, they spoke of the need for gun control.