Tennessee Republicans expelled state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson on Thursday, but fell short of expelling Rep. Gloria Johnson. All three Democratic lawmakers participated in the same protest calling for “gun reform now” following the recent school shooting in Nashville, but Jones was expelled on a 72-25 vote and Pearson was expelled on a 69-26 vote, while Republicans fell just short of mustering the two-thirds supermajority needed to expel Johnson. She survived after a 65-30 vote.
During the expulsion proceedings, two former House members raised a defense of Johnson, saying that while she had gone with Jones and Pearson to the well of the House without being recognized, she had not taken the bullhorn to lead chants. Johnson, though, pointed to a different reason she survived the expulsion vote, telling CNN, “I think it’s pretty clear. I’m a 60-year-old white woman and they are two young Black men.”
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Johnson cited how Republicans treated the trio differently during the expulsion process. “I was talked down to as a woman, mansplained to, but it was completely different from the questioning that they got,” calling it “demeaning.”
By way of example, one Republican described Pearson as having thrown a “temper tantrum with an adolescent bullhorn.”
“He called a peaceful protest a temper tantrum,” Pearson responded. “Is what is happening outside these doors by Tennesseans who want to see change a temper tantrum? Sarah, whose son was at the Covenant school, showing up here demanding we do something about gun violence – is that a temper tantrum? Is elevating our voices for justice and change a temper tantrum?”
Again and again, Republicans came at Pearson and Jones with insulting questions intended to put them in their place, and the two men responded powerfully. Lawmakers with any understanding of the role of protest in U.S. history would have heard what they were saying. But then, lawmakers with any sense of shame would never have brought the expulsion votes to begin with.
The good news is Jones and Pearson could be back within days since county governments are allowed to appoint representatives to fill vacancies and expelled members are not prohibited from returning. They can also run in the special elections to replace themselves. What Republicans did here is very, very bad news, though. There has never in Tennessee House history been an expulsion over decorum, and previous expulsions have been bipartisan. There have only been two expulsions since the Civil War: one for bribery and one over sexual harassment allegations. And, the members facing expulsion repeatedly noted, Republicans have in recent years refused to take action against some of their own who did far worse things than violate rules of decorum.
"We had a child molester on the floor for years, they helped him get reelected and did nothing to expel him," Johnson said ahead of the votes. "We've had members pee in each other's chairs. We've had members illegally prescribe drugs to their cousin-mistress, and nothing happened. But talk on the floor without permission, and you'll get expelled."
Expelling two members for a peaceful protest was an extreme act by Republicans and they’re not backing down, releasing a statement claiming, “Unprecedented actions yield unprecedented consequences. Unfortunately, we were obliged”—obliged!—“to levy unprecedented consequences on those members today.”
Thursday night, NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams tweeted, “Scrolling through Tennesse legislative Twitter, Republicans are incredibly quiet tonight!” He added, “Privately, some Republicans express concern to me that these events are not only alienating independents, but also GOP women who don’t want their kids getting killed at school.” (Kids getting killed at school is apparently not a concern for GOP men.) So maybe Tennessee Republicans are feeling a little concerned about the backlash against their actions, which saw the state Capitol once again filled with protesters. But it didn’t stop them from expelling the two men, which required near unanimity, and it wasn’t the first anti-democratic action the Republican lawmakers have recently taken. After Nashville government rejected the Republican National Convention, Republicans in the legislature moved to strip power from that local government.
Tennessee isn’t alone in U.S. history. In a must-read Twitter thread, Will Bunch noted the parallels with the refusal of white lawmakers in the Georgia House to seat Julian Bond in 1966. The pretext then was Bond’s opposition to the Vietnam War, but, as in Tennessee now, it was a young Black man kept out of the seat he had been elected to. Congratulations, Tennessee Republicans! You are Georgia in 1966. Tennessee Republicans may also soon have company in removing elected Democrats just because they have the power to do so—Wisconsin Republicans have talked about using their Senate supermajority to impeach and remove elected officials.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said the “expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest is shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent. 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 called on Congress to pass legislation combating gun violence.
Our planned Ukraine episode will have to wait, as Donald Trump is being arraigned in New York City for his role in falsifying records to hide hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. This is the first of a potential slew of indictments coming Trump’s way, and we are here for a celebration of karmic justice—and to talk about what happens to the Republican Party after this.
Tennessee Republicans compare gun protest to Jan. 6, move to expel Democratic lawmakers
Wisconsin Republican says he would support impeaching Judge Janet Protasiewicz