Congress convened Monday night and engaged in a ritual that’s now almost routine: They held a moment of silence for victims of a mass shooting, this time for those killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday.
But this moment of silence was different. House Democrats broke custom, chanting, "Where is the bill?" at Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues.
According to the Washington Post, the chant began after South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn asked Ryan when a gun control bill would be considered and his question was ruled out of order.
Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post points out that the moment of silence is a rare bipartisan act that Congress has mastered over the years. But now, after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, House Democrats are abandoning that tradition and following the lead of President Barack Obama, who said in October after a mass shooting that "our prayers are not enough."
It started with a tweet
On Sunday, Democrat Jim Himes, whose district lies near Newtown, Connecticut, tweeted his frustration at moments of silence that don't lead to action:
I will not attend one more"Moment of Silence" on the Floor. Our silence does not honor the victims, it mocks them. pic.twitter.com/VWWdOkliWN— Jim Himes (@jahimes) June 13, 2016
He then followed up his tweet with this:
The Moments of Silence in the House have become an abomination. God will ask you, "How did you keep my children safe"? Silence.— Jim Himes (@jahimes) June 13, 2016
God will ask you why you did not defer to the will of the people as children poured out their blood. And we will answer with silence.— Jim Himes (@jahimes) June 13, 2016
If whatever God you worship is in fact a God of love and peace you had better use the Moment of Silence to pray for our souls.— Jim Himes (@jahimes) June 13, 2016
Himes, along with fellow Connecticut Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney, left the floor Monday in protest. Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton echoed Himes’s remarks, saying he "walked out of his first" moment of silence and would no longer stand for inaction.
The tradition is to send "thoughts and prayers" first, then perhaps demand policy change later. I’m done with that.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) June 13, 2016
Republicans say this is pure politics
Not everyone in Washington agrees with this approach. After leaving the House chamber, Ryan declined to comment when asked about the protest, but his spokesperson AshLee Strong said Democrats were politicizing the moment and called that "disheartening."
Politicizing a moment of silence for victims of a terrorist attack. Disheartening.— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) June 13, 2016
Those who disagree with stricter gun control have accused Democrats of being heartless and inconsiderate online.
The protest caught on
Congressional members following Himes’s approach have become more vocal online, posting with the hashtag "#NoMoreSilence," like Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts:
Why I'm refusing the moment of silence. #NoMoreSilence Read: https://t.co/pSKUie0jVk pic.twitter.com/NTnFEokK3r— Katherine Clark (@RepKClark) June 13, 2016
The hashtag, along with others like "#PolicyChangeforOrlando," began trending on Twitter as a result.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday, Himes said the following:
All I know is that the regular moments of silence on the House floor do not honor the victims of violence. They are an affront. In the chamber where change is made, they are a tepid, self-satisfying emblem of impotence and willful negligence. It is action that will stop next week’s mass shooting.
I will not be silent.