President Joe Biden on Friday invited the three Tennessee Democrats who faced expulsion for protesting on the state House floor to visit the White House.
After several hours of debate on Thursday, two of three state Democrats were expelled from the Tennessee General Assembly by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The lawmakers were accused of participating in “disorderly behavior” that brought “disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives,” according to a resolution introduced by Tennessee Republicans.
State Representatives Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis were expelled. Gloria Johnson of Knox County was the sole member to participate in the protest to escape expulsion after eight Republicans crossed the floor to save her.
During a video conference call from Camp David on Friday, Biden thanked the lawmakers for their act of protest. The president also expressed disappointment over their expulsion from the Tennessee Assembly.
“Earlier, I spoke to Reps Jones, Pearson, and Johnson to thank them for their leadership and courage in the face of a blatant disregard of our nation’s democratic values,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “Our country needs to take action on gun violence—to do that we need more voices like theirs speaking out.”
The White House said in a statement that the trio of Democrats thanked the president for his “leadership in seeking to ban assault weapons and standing up for our democratic values” and for his support as they faced “unprecedented attacks” over their actions.
No official date was given for the White House visit.
The two expelled Democrats can be appointed to their seats by officials in their respective counties. Both members represent Democrat strongholds in Nashville and Memphis. They cannot be expelled again for the same offenses, members said during debate Thursday.
Gun Restriction Protest
In a further statement released by the White House, Biden claimed most Americans want tighter gun control.
“Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protest is shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” Biden said in the statement. “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.”
Biden also took to Twitter to express his support for the lawmakers.
“Our country needs to take action on gun violence—to do that we need more voices like theirs speaking out,” Biden wrote. He further condemned the expulsion of the lawmakers as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”
Only two other Tennessee state lawmakers have been similarly expelled since the Civil War. However, those votes were largely bipartisan, while the vote on Thursday was mostly along party lines.
Jones, Pearson, and Johnson had been officially censured for their protest and stripped of their committee appointments on April 3. This came after hundreds of chanting demonstrators crowded the state Capitol and its gallery on March 30.
The protesters called for tighter restrictions on gun rights in the wake of The Covenant School shooting in Nashville, where Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, who police said identified as transgender, opened fire at the school, shooting dead three 9-year-old children and three adults.
The three Democrats defied the convention by moving to the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn, where they cheered on the crowd in the gallery and led chants, marking a breach of chamber rules as they hadn’t been recognized to speak.
In his statement, Biden urged 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. He also called on state officials to do the same.
The president argued that most Americans want lawmakers to enact more restrictions on gun rights and accused Republican officials across America of doubling down on bills that he said make schools, places of worship, and communities less safe.