Tennessee House to vote on expelling 3 Dems over gun protest

The Tennessee state House will decide Thursday whether to expel three Democratic members for joining gun violence protests inside the Capitol, a high stakes vote that has captured national attention for its unusual partisanship.

Three representatives are under threat of being removed from office by their GOP counterparts for participating in a gun violence protest last week in the aftermath of a school shooting that left multiple people dead.

Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson approached the lectern last week without being called on by House GOP leadership and toted a bullhorn to lead chants on the House floor, a stunt that temporarily suspended legislative business. House Speaker Cameron Sexton later likened their behavior to “an insurrection.”

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, tensions appeared high among lawmakers as they debated separate legislation, including a school safety bill that would require every school to have a resource officer or security guard. Members of the public filled the galleries and hallways to observe the session.

If the vote is successful, it would mark an unprecedented wielding of power by the Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature. Expelling members typically occurs when individuals are accused of crimes or ethics violations, a rare step that tends to follow an internal investigation that can span months or years and features bipartisan agreement.

In this case, however, Republicans angered by the trio’s actions moved swiftly and unilaterally.

State Troopers watch the rotunda as people protest below after it was announced Republicans began the process of expelling three state representatives, during a House session at the Tennessee state Capitol Building in Nashville, on April 3, 2023.

“They have gone to extreme consequences for three members who spoke without permission,” said Johnson in an interview with POLITICO.

Removing Johnson and her colleagues would set a “terrible precedent,” she said. “You could be expelled for literally anything, the smallest infraction possible.”

The drama has skyrocketed the three to the national stage as Democrats have rallied around them and tried to steer that attention toward enacting gun reform laws in Tennessee and beyond. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that Tennessee Republicans are “shrugging in the face of yet another school shooting.”


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