Biden Blasts Removal of Dem Lawmakers in Tennessee

April 7, 2023 by Dan McCue
Biden Blasts Removal of Dem Lawmakers in Tennessee
Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones, Rep. Gloria Johnson hold their hands up as they exit the House Chamber doors at Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, April 3, 2023. (Nicole Hester /The Tennessean via AP)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden weighed in Thursday night on the Republican-led Tennessee House’s vote to expel two Democrats who halted proceedings last week to join protesters demanding tougher gun-control legislation.

“Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest is shocking, undemocratic and without precedent,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. 

“Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence and expel duly elected representatives of the people of Tennessee,” he said.

On Monday, an estimated 7,000 people, many of them students, marched to the state Capitol in Nashville to call for stronger gun-control legislation after a mass shooting at the Covenant School in the city left six dead, including three 9-year-olds.

Three Democratic state lawmakers joined the protesters — Reps. Justin Jones, of Nashville, Justin Pearson, of Memphis, and Gloria Johnson, of Knoxville — and were quickly dubbed the “Tennessee Three” by the press.

They later said they joined the protests because their Republican colleagues, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, were ignoring the demands of the marchers.

On Thursday, in a stunning act of partisan retaliation, the House voted 72-25 to remove Jones and 69-26 to oust Pearson. However, the Republicans could not muster enough votes to remove Johnson.

Asked later why she thought she was spared, Johnson suggested to reporters that it “might have to do with the color of our skin.” 

Johnson is White. Pearson is Black. Jones is of mixed Black and Filipino descent.

Almost immediately after the vote, Jones and Pearson’s biographies were removed from the state House website and their seats were listed as vacant.

Biden said the lawmakers were senselessly punished for standing in solidarity with students and families and helping them lift their voices.

“A strong majority of Americans want lawmakers to act on commonsense gun safety reforms that we know will save lives,” the president said from Camp David, where he is spending the Easter weekend. 

“But instead, we’ve continued to see Republican officials across America double down on dangerous bills that make our schools, places of worship and communities less safe. Our kids continue to pay the price,” Biden said.

He ended his statement by renewing his call for Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require safe storage of firearms, eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability, and require background checks for all gun sales. 

“And state officials must do the same,” the president said.

On Friday afternoon, Biden spoke via conference call with Jones, Pearson and Johnson, thanking them for their leadership in seeking to ban assault weapons and standing up for our democratic values, the White House said. 

The three state lawmakers reciprocated, thanking the president both for his leadership on gun safety and for speaking out on what had happened to them at the Tennessee statehouse. 

All three have been invited to meet with him at the White House in the near future.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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  • Expulsion
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  • Joe Biden
  • Justin Jones
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