House Republicans move to expel three Democrats over floor protests
House floor session devolved into fracas after move to expel Democratic Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Justin Pearson of Memphis and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville.
Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones at a Monday press conference on Monday, April 3, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
(This story has been updated.)
Republican lawmakers sponsored resolutions Monday to expel three Democrats who led a protest on the House floor last week as hundreds of people rallied outside the chamber for tighter gun laws before the session devolved into a fracas.
The bills are aimed at state Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Justin Pearson of Memphis and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville. They’re sponsored by Republican Reps. Andrew Farmer of Sevierville, Gino Bulso of Brentwood and Bud Hulsey of Kingsport.
Members voted on party lines, 72-23, to vote on expulsion Thursday when the House goes into session again.
Spectators in the House balconies reacted by shouting, “fascists, fascists!” before being escorted out by state troopers. As lawmakers shot video of the event, Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, turned to Jones, who was standing nearby, grabbing Jones’ phone and shoving the freshman lawmaker.
House Democratic Caucus Leader John Ray Clemmons characterized Lafferty’s move as “assault.”
The House Democratic Caucus and Tennessee Black Caucus later opposed efforts to expel the three lawmakers.
“The political retribution is unconstitutional and, in this moment, morally bankrupt,” the Black Caucus said in a statement.
Thousands of people protested the state’s lax gun laws again Monday on the War Memorial Plaza and inside the Capitol, many of them high school students, a week after the shooting deaths of six people at The Covenant School in Green Hills.
A two-thirds vote of the chamber is required for expulsion of any member, but Republicans hold a supermajority with 75 of the House’s 99 seats.
The trio is expected to be given a chance to defend themselves before the entire chamber.
Resolutions by the three Republican lawmakers point out the state Constitution enables the House to punish members for “disorderly behavior.” House rules include “preserving order, adhering to decorum, speaking only with recognition, not crowding around the Clerk’s desk, avoiding personalities, and not using props or displaying political messages.”
All three resolutions contend Jones, Johnson and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
It notes the trio moved to the well last Thursday at 10:49 a.m. and started shouting and pounding on the podium, leading chants with a crowded gallery and “engaged in disorderly and disruptive conduct, including refusing to leave the well, sitting on the podium, and utilizing a sign displaying a political message.”
Jones and Pearson both used a megaphone to rally the crowds.
The resolutions state the targeted members have been notified about the potential expulsion.
Republican Rep. Sam Whitson said Monday he wanted Democrats to take action against the trio for disrupting the chamber. Democratic leaders balked at the idea.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton accused them of “insurrection,” a claim they vehemently deny.
Protests continued Monday night inside the House chamber with Sexton having state troopers remove at least two people for outbursts as Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison discussed the need for people to refrain from “mob” behavior.
State Rep. Bo Mitchell responded that the House needs a “little light” shed on it.
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