Inside Senate Dems' gun reform filibuster following Orlando massacre

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) leads Senate filibuster over gun control reforms.  (Photo: C-SPAN)
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) leads Senate filibuster over gun control reforms. (Photo: C-SPAN) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

Chance Seales, Media General National Correspondent – WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) -- Three first-term senators took over the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, staging a filibuster to demand action on gun reform legislation following the massacre of 49 innocents in Orlando's Pulse Nightclub.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut spearheaded the effort beginning around 11:20 a.m., joined by colleagues Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

The men aren't high on the seniority-obsessed Senate's pecking order. But they know the rules, and used them to their full advantage, bringing the upper chamber's typical day to a grinding halt.

Filibusters, unique to the Senate, are fairly straightforward: the speaker may hold the floor as long as they do not stop talking, sit down or leave the chamber.

The only way around the mandate to continue talking is for supportive senators to rise and ask the original filibustering senator a question. These "questions" can take the form of 10-minute long soliloquy or visual demonstrations, as long as they're technically posed as questions.

On his desk, Murphy kept a yellow filing folder with the scrawled parliamentary language required to keep a filibuster going: "I yield to the senator from ___ without losing my right to the floor."

During the hours long demonstration, Murphy spoke emotionally about the 2012 attack on students and teachers in his home state's Sandy Hook Elementary School, pointing out that four years and multiple mass shootings later, federal gun laws remain unchanged.

While Murphy orated, Booker and Blumenthal hustled around the floor to huddle with colleague who came to join the effort.

Their stated goal is to get a vote on bills to a) stop suspected terrorists from legally buying guns and b) require universal background checks on all gun sales, including online and at gun shows.

Other members would like to see assault weapons banned, as they once were under federal statute.

Staffers and interns, energetic to see the molasses-paced deliberative body in motion, packed their designated balcony area which usually sits empty.

Democrat's No. 2 Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois passed out bite-sized Hershey's bars and atta-boys on the floor.

Murphy spurned the fresh glass of water provided by the Senate's team of pages, presumably fearing it would necessitate a bathroom break. Instead, his most used tools were an iPhone, a few slips of handwritten notes and a list of typed bullet points.

Sen. Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, took to the floor and talked about the terror attack on his hometown of Orlando, which he labeled a targeted massacre of Latinos and LGBT citizens.

Nelson hoisted up a picture of the MCX gun model used by Omar Mateen in his rampage, calling it a "lethal killing machine."

"These are not weapons for hunting; these are weapons for killing," declared Nelson.

Florida's junior senator, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was not in the chamber to join Nelson.

In fact, not many Republicans bothered to show up.

Since the GOP is the majority, one Republican is always presiding -- usually a junior member.

Georgia's David Perdue theoretically held the gavel during an hour of the filibuster, but in reality spent that time reading through briefing materials and chatting with the parliamentarian.

During his hour of duty, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wearing shiny black cowboy boots, listened intently for a while and then moved on to his stack of paperwork.

With the exception of Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who remained on the floor in case he could reclaim it from Murphy, Republicans' seats and cloak room mostly sat empty.

In the past, the GOP has successfully avoided difficult votes on gun safety bills, and have stood nearly united against all new restrictions when tough votes were forced.

Following the ISIS-inspired attacks in San Bernardino, Republicans lost only one defector, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., when they voted to continue allowing people on the terror watch lists to legally purchase guns.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and a small group of other Republicans have expressed a willingness to re-enter negotiations on new gun control measures, but didn't lend full-throated support to Murphy's filibuster effort on Wednesday.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has also indicated he'll speak to the National Rifle Association, a group feared by most congressional Republicans, about banning gun sales to those on the terror watch lists.

Undeterred by the long odds of Wednesday's filibuster, several members of the House made the rare trek across the Capitol to enter the Senate and lend their support.

Wearing rainbow-striped Orlando memorial ribbons, Reps. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., all appeared in the upper chamber to (silently) cheer on the filibustering senators.

Murphy conceded that the current gun reform bills are not perfect, but urged Republicans against "allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good."

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the filibuster continued.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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