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Updated Apr 7, 2023, 10:32am EDT
politicsNorth America

GOP-led Tennessee House expels two Democrats over gun control protest

George Walker IV/USA Today Network
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The News

Tennessee’s GOP-led House of Representatives voted to expel two Black Democratic members who protested for gun control reform on the floor of the chamber last week.

The move was condemned by President Joe Biden who called their expulsions, “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”

Members voted 72-25 to expel Rep. Justin Jones and 69-26 for Rep. Justin Pearson. Before the vote, Jones slammed his Republican colleagues in a speech on the House floor.

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“For so long, this body, drunk with power, has modeled for the world what we know as authoritarianism,” Jones said.

Pearson raised allegations of racism after a third representative who protested on the chamber floor, Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, was not expelled. The move to expel her failed by one vote.

“You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today,” Pearson said.

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Former president Barack Obama described the actions of Tennessee lawmakers in a statement as “the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms.”

Jones, Johnson, and Pearson are being hailed as the “Tennessee Three” after they stood in solidarity with those demanding gun control following the Nashville school shooting where three children and three staff members were killed.

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Jones called out Republicans for their double standards, saying that some members of the legislature who have been investigated for or were found guilty of domestic violence and sexual harassment had not been expelled.

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“We had a member pee in another member’s chair, in this chamber. No expulsion — in fact, they’re in leadership,” Jones said.

Jones said that GOP-led efforts to expel him and the two other Democrats were not because of what they did, “but because...we broke the glass of your false power for the world to see.”

Lawmakers began to debate expelling three of their colleagues shortly after 1 p.m. local time.

As they entered the House gallery, the three Democrats were welcomed with chants of “Tennessee three” from gun reform protesters.

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Step Back

Jones, Johnson, and Pearson had joined hundreds of protesters at the Tennessee Capitol to call on Republican lawmakers to implement better gun control.

Republicans accused the trio of violating several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor, including protesting “without being recognized.”

Tennessee’s House has expelled only two lawmakers in its 157-year history, according to CNN. In 1980, a representative was expelled for accepting a bribe while in office, and in 2016, another was expelled over allegations of sexual harassment.

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