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Congressman Says He Will Boycott Congress’ ‘Smug, Self-Empowering’ Moment Of Silence For Orlando

U.S. Rep Jim Himes talks about health care reform in Norwalk, Conn. Wednesday Sept. 2, 2009. Himes, a freshman Democrat, is spending his week hosting health care reform forums along Connecticut’s Gold Coast. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DOUGLAS HEALEY
U.S. Rep Jim Himes talks about health care reform in Norwalk, Conn. Wednesday Sept. 2, 2009. Himes, a freshman Democrat, is spending his week hosting health care reform forums along Connecticut’s Gold Coast. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DOUGLAS HEALEY

After the deadliest mass shooting perpetrated by a single gunman in U.S. history, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for a moment of silence at 4 p.m. on Monday to “honor the victims.” When the House does the same, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) won’t be there.

“We meet this tragedy week in and week out with smug, self-empowering moments of silence in the House that do absolutely nothing for anybody,” Himes told ThinkProgress.

“I’d love to interview one of the parents down in Florida and say: What does 16 seconds of silence in the House of Representatives mean to you?” he continued.

On Sunday night, after learning about the Orlando massacre and then attending a screening of a documentary about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Himes wrote a series of tweets addressing Congress’ planned moment of silence.

He said he decided to use powerful moral language, invoking God in multiple tweets, because presenting the facts about gun violence does not seem to work with Congress. “We’re not going to get through on facts, so we need to start asking some questions about what is it to be a good person?” said Himes, an elder in his Presbyterian church. “Do you have the responsibility to try to save some lives if you can?”

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Congress’ moments of silence — now a common occurrence — are even more shameful to Himes because they are not followed by policy discussion or talk of how to prevent more tragedy.

“They’re followed by discussions of where we’re going to go get dinner,” he said. “Or how did the Broncos do?”

There is no tragedy so horrible that Congress can’t deflect it with pathetic moments of silence.

Himes represents the Connecticut district adjacent to Newtown, where 20 first graders were shot and killed in 2012. After that tragedy, the families of the victims lobbied Congress to pass comprehensive gun reform, like a measure to expand background checks to most gun sales. But all of the efforts were killed on the Senate floor.

“There is no tragedy so horrible that Congress can’t deflect it with pathetic moments of silence,” said Himes, who said he supports the Second Amendment and enjoys shooting.

In a statement on Sunday, he partly attributed the Orlando shooting to Congress’ lack of action.

“Congress has been complicit in these murders by its total, unconscionable deafening silence,” he wrote. “This doesn’t have to happen, but this epidemic will continue without end if Congress continues to sit on its hands and do nothing — again.”

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And given that the House has struck down attempts to sign anti-LGBT discrimination measures into law, Himes said he is not convinced that a moment of silence would do anything to address the fact that the Orlando shooter was reportedly targeting LGBT Americans. Nor would it address the prevalence of violent hateful crimes against gay people across the country.

In response to the Orlando shooting, many Republican members of Congress also took to Twitter to express their sympathies. But most of them did not address the fact that the shooting was an anti-LGBT hate crime and, as usual, most could only offer “thoughts and prayers.”

“Thoughts and prayers are important but they don’t stop the carnage in our streets and they let you off too easy,” Himes said. “Offer your thoughts and prayers, and then show up on the damn floor and pass a bill that most Americans accept and that will save a lot of lives.”