Vice President Harris travels to Tennessee after expulsion of Black lawmakers

Harris will meet with the so-called "Tennessee Three," comprised of Rep. Gloria Johnson and former representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who Republicans moved to expel from their seats after protesting gun violence.

Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Tennessee on Friday as national Democrats condemn the state legislature for expelling two Black Democrats from the House of Representatives for their protest of legislative inaction on gun reform.

Harris will meet with the so-called “Tennessee Three,” comprised of Rep. Gloria Johnson and former representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who Republicans moved to expel from their seats by a super-majority Republican House. 

Former Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and former Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, raise their hands outside the House chamber after Jones and Pearson were expelled from the legislature Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

The lawmakers participated in a demonstration inside the state Capitol building on March 30, days after three children and three school employees were fatally shot inside The Covenant School in Nashville on March 27. 

Jones, Pearson and Johnson – a white lawmaker who was ultimately not voted out of the Tennessee House – participated in a protest on the House floor as thousands of mostly young Tennesseans demanded legislators pass stricter gun laws.

Critics of Tennessee Republicans’ decision to expel Jones and Pearson were swift and wide.

Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the expulsion of Jones and Pearson. 

“Six people, including three children, were killed last week in a school shooting in Nashville – How did Republican lawmakers in Tennessee respond?” queried Harris. “By expelling their colleagues who stood with Tennesseans and said enough is enough.”

An official from the vice president’s office said Harris is traveling to Tennessee “to make sure that these young people’s voices are heard.” The official added, “in the face of a very tragic event, they want action.” 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to reporters after participating in a swearing-in ceremony for Eric Garcetti as Ambassador to India at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on March 24, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Harris is heading to Tennessee in response to the expulsion of the two representatives. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden, in a statement, called the act “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,” said the president.

Former President Barack Obama also weighed in on the unprecedented expulsions of the two young Black lawmakers. 

“This nation was built on peaceful protest. No elected official should lose their job simply for raising their voice – especially when they’re doing it on behalf of our children,” tweeted Obama.

“What happened in Tennessee is the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms. Silencing those who disagree with us is a sign of weakness, not strength, and it won’t lead to progress.”

Former President Barack Obama speaks during a rally with President Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator John Fetterman, and Democratic candidate for Governor Josh Shapiro at the Liacouras Center on Nov. 5, 2022, in Philadelphia. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

At the core of the explosive political terrain brought on by the expulsions of Jones and Pearson, both in Tennessee and nationally, is the clash between Democrats and Republicans on how to address the gun violence epidemic in the United States. 

Democrats on both the national and federal levels have called for stricter gun laws like banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and establishing universal background checks for all gun sales. However, Republicans have insisted that such laws are unnecessary or a violation of citizens’ Second Amendment rights. 

Instead, Republican lawmakers have proposed policy solutions like arming teachers and school administrators with guns and better addressing mental health – though data shows few mass shootings are connected to mental illness. 

Democrats have accused Republicans of putting profit before the people as they continue to accept millions of campaign dollars from gun manufacturers and gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Protesters participate in March For Our Lives II to protest against gun violence on June 11, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)

The mass shooting at Nashville’s The Covenant School became the 13th school shooting of 2023. To date, more than 130 mass shootings have occurred in the U.S., according to Gun Violence Archive.

In his statement, President Biden said that while a strong majority of Americans “want lawmakers to act on common sense gun safety reforms that we know will save lives,” Republicans continue to “double down on dangerous bills that make our schools, places of worship, and communities less safe.”

He added, “Our kids continue to pay the price.”

After being voted out of the Tennessee House, former Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones were undeterred.

Former Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson of Memphis and Justin Jones of Nashville, along with Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville hold their hands up as they exit the House chamber doors at the Tennessee state Capitol building in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 3, 2023. (Photo credit: Nicole Hester/The Tennessean/USA Today Network RANK 1 knox Capitol Tenn 3 005)

During a press conference outside the Capitol building on Thursday evening, Jones said of his former Republican colleagues: “They thought they won … but they don’t realize what they started – they started a movement that can’t stop.” 

Pointing out the race and age of he and his colleague, the 27-year-old said, “A caucus that is majority white … expelled the two youngest Black lawmakers for standing with our constituents who are demanding that we take action on the crisis of mass shootings.”

Pearson, 29, was unapologetic about the charges made against him and Jones for being “disorderly.”

“If we must be out of order to get fairness. If we must be out of order to lift those who’ve been pushed to the bottom to the top of the conversation in the state house, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Pearson. “The one thing we won’t do is ever quit.”

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