U.S. Capitol attack looms over Legislature as lawmakers downplay insurrection

By: - January 12, 2021 3:54 pm
Tennessee House of Representatives (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee House of Representatives (Photo: John Partipilo)

A Republican Tennessee lawmaker who attended the Washington, D.C. protest-turned-riot denied Tuesday she did anything wrong as she faces potential removal for supporting the insurrection.

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster Republican representing the 40th House District, acted as if she was unaware of the Jan. 6 attack in which five people died as a horde of pro-Trump protesters invaded the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

“I did nothing wrong. I don’t condone violence, never did, never would, never done it,” Weaver said as her husband and other Republican legislators guided her away from reporters after a closed House Republican Caucus meeting. 

Asked if she thought what took place at the U.S. Capitol was good, Weaver said, “I didn’t see anything.” 

Yet the day of the Capitol invasion she tweeted it was “Absolutely Epic and Historic” and contended propaganda was being disseminated to make “deplorables” look bad. “To those who did damage? Antifa Shame on you!!!”

A Capitol Police officer died in the insurrection. As a small group of legislators tried to board a public elevator to escape media questions, one reporter asked Weaver’s husband, Mike, why he was touching him. Weaver urged her husband to get onto the elevator as they went to their legislative offices.

As the 112th General Assembly convenes, Weaver and other lawmakers who supported the Capitol protest are feeling pressure from other lawmakers who could ask for their removal.

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, tweeted from the middle of the Wednesday mob scene.
State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, tweeted from the middle of the Wednesday mob scene.

State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus from Nashville, has requested an opinion from Attorney General Herb Slatery about the constitutional prohibition on officials continuing to hold office if they “give aid or comfort” to those who engage in actions such as the insurrection.

In a letter to the attorney general, Yarbro pointed out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, called the events of Jan. 6 an “insurrection” and described it as an attempt to “obstruct Congress” and “disrupt our democracy.”

Yarbro’s letter notes political leaders across the “ideological spectrum” believe the events “constituted an ‘insurrection’” and the U.S. Justice Department reached the same conclusion. With that in mind, Yarbro asked Slatery to render an opinion related to the Fourteenth Amendment, which excludes people from office if they engage in an insurrection or rebellion against the state or nation.

Yarbro’s letter asks whether the state of Tennessee has a legal obligation to adhere to the 14th Amendment and whether its third section requires the state to remove state legislators, executive officeholders or judicial officeholders who’ve “engaged in insurrection” or “given aid or comfort” to insurrectionists.

Another piece of legislation could have targeted Weaver.

But during Tuesday’s House session, state Rep. London Lamar, a Memphis Democrat, withdrew legislation that would have required the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate every Tennessean suspected of participating in seditious or treasonous acts connected to the Capitol attack and any related future acts targeting the United States of Tennessee.

Lamar said she dropped House Bill 111 because the FBI is already conducting an investigation into people involved in the violence.

“What we wanted is accomplished,” she said. 

Lamar’s legislation also would have made seditious and treasonous acts committed by an elected official in Tennessee grounds for immediate removal, expulsion or impeachment under the state Constitution or state law.

In a letter to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville,n otes political leaders across the “ideological spectrum” believe the events of Wednesday “constituted an ‘insurrection.’” Yarbro cited the constitutional prohibition on officials continuing to hold office if they “give aid or comfort” to those who engage in actions such as the insurrection.

In the days leading up to the General Assembly’s first day, Lamar said, “I am angered and saddened by the hate and violence (President) Trump and his gang of supporters have invoked on our nation. While already scared of a deadly virus plagued by a lack of leadership from Trump and Republican leaders, citizens have a right to engage in the democratic process free from violence, hate and false rhetoric. However, those who participate in sedition and treason should be held liable.”

It is unclear how much House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s Tuesday speech played into Lamar’s decision, but he encouraged members to “rise above” anger and frustration when he addressed them shortly after being re-elected to the leadership post.

The Senate also re-elected Lt. Gov. Randy McNally as Senate speaker.

Republican state Rep. Bruce Griffey of Paris confirmed Tuesday he removed Trump bumper stickers from his car at the request of his wife, Rebecca, out of concern that it would be “keyed,” apparently while in the legislative parking garage. Still, Griffey said he remains a “full-bore” supporter of President Trump.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Mark Pody, a Lebanon Republican, confirmed he paid for tickets for several people to travel to the D.C. protest where President Donald Trump incited the group to violence.

Pody said none of them participated in the attack on the Capitol. He also contended that Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge Biden as president-elect did not lead to the insurrection and argued they were separate matters.

Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

“Violence should never have happened. We don’t want any violence from any of the protesters, so that was wrong. However, for the 99% of the people that went down there for peaceful protest, just to share what their thoughts and their concerns and their frustrations were, absolutely (it was OK),” he said.

Though Biden is to be inaugurated Jan. 20, Pody said he believes fraud was committed in the presidential election and the level of wrongdoing needs to be determined. He added that he didn’t believe those who oppose the outcome have had their opportunity in court, even though some 60 legal challenges were turned back in courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pody said he has no regrets with raising concerns about the election outcome. He added he wouldn’t have been able to stop rioters from attacking the Capitol because he expected protesters to abide by the law.

After initially questioning the outcome of the presidential election, Tennessee Senate and House Republican caucus leaders have acknowledged Biden as the winner. 

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally made the move last week, and House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he accepts Biden as the president-elect. He declined to say whether opposition to Biden’s election might have fueled the attack,

“It appears that every single aspect of the system has worked. All legal measures have been exhausted at this juncture and he will be the president, and at this juncture the president-elect,” said Lamberth, a Portland Republican.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.