Democrats have staged a sit-in on the House floor demanding the chamber vote on stricter gun control measures. House Speaker Paul Ryan has called the demonstration a publicity stunt.
More than 200 Democratic lawmakers blocked the House's legislative agenda on Wednesday, taking to the floor in a bid to force a vote on stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando.
Led by Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the lawmakers are demanding the House vote to expand background checks and prevent gun purchases for people on certain government watch lists.
Gun legislation has moved to the top of the US political agenda in the election year after a gunman who claimed allegiance to the so-called "Islamic State" shot up a gay night club in Orlando, killing 49 people.
"How many more mothers, how many more fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something?" Lewis, a veteran civil rights leader, said from the floor.
"Today we come to the well of the House to dramatize the need for action, not next month, not next year, but today," he said.
By late afternoon, 168 House Democrats and 34 Senate Democrats had joined the protest in front of the speaker's podium. Some sat in seats, others sat on the ground.
"No bill, no break," the Democrats shouted, referring to the legislative break next week.
The protest forced the Republican-led House to go into recess.
"The House cannot operate without members following the rules of the institution, so the House has recessed subject to the call of the chair," said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Ryan said on Wednesday that Democrats were engaging in a publicity stunt.
"They know that we will not bring a bill that takes away a person's constitutionally guaranteed rights without ... due process," Ryan said in an interview with CNN. "We don't agree with that. The Senate already doesn't agree with that.... This is a publicity stunt."
The House speaker said the the lower chamber was waiting to see if any compromise comes out of the Senate before proceeding with a vote on gun legislation.
Bipartisan legislation could reach the Senate floor later this week, after four pieces of separate gun legislation failed to muster support on Monday.
Gun control is a hot button political issue in Congress, which hasn't passed significant gun legislation since 1994. Republicans and the powerful National Rifle Association view any gun legislation as infringing on the US Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Legislation prohibiting people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns is opposed by Republicans on the grounds that nearly one million people are on the list, many for no justifiable reason.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would allow a vote on possible compromise legislation that would prevent about 100,000 people on the government's no-fly and other surveillance lists from purchasing firearms.
C-SPAN, which broadcasts House and Senate legislative affairs, was forced to cut coverage after Republicans cut the cameras. The non-profit independent channel does not control the cameras and relies on legislative leaders.
C-SPAN turned to Democratic lawmakers, who shared video though social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Periscope to cover the unfolding events.
cw/bk (AP, dpa, Reuters)