As my colleague Emine Yücel just reported, Tennessee Republicans have voted to expel one of the three Democrats who participated in a protest that broke out in the state House last week, as children and parents showed up to demand expanded gun control in the wake of another school shooting.
Emine and I followed the livestream of floor proceeding closely all afternoon and the rhetoric was, honestly, shocking. As Republicans gave lengthy, cringe speeches about the importance of following House rules, demanding to know how Rep. Justin Jones (D) carried a concealed bullhorn into the House chamber, yelled about him wearing the wrong type of lapel pin and argued that the Democrat from Nashville was intentionally creating chaos on the House floor to get attention because he is young, Democrats pleaded with their colleagues to drop the embarrassing crusade.
Several Democrats gave impassioned speeches about punishing a young Black state lawmaker for simply giving his constituents a voice to protest against the state’s lax gun laws in response to a school shooting that left three children and three adults dead. A handful of Democrats brought up the fact that House Republicans were loathe to expel one of their own just a few years ago when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against then-Rep. David Byrd, a Republican who was accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls. One Democrat yelled at Republicans for wasting time on punishing a recently elected member of the body instead of considering meaningful reforms to school safety measures and gun laws.
Jones repeatedly delivered eloquent remarks throughout the entire process, at one point telling Republicans that he was aware that their issue with him was not actually about rules and more so about the fact that he, as a young Black man, was challenging the body’s status quo.
Shortly after the vote to expel Jones, Republicans voted against expelling Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman who also joined the protest last week.
It was all an embarrassing charade on Republicans’ part, but I wanted to point you back to the origins of what makes this entire ordeal even worse than it appears on its face.
Jones — along with the other two Democrats, Reps. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville and Justin Pearson of Memphis — are being punished because they spoke out of turn on the House floor when they joined in chants with the children and parents who had gathered in the gallery last week to demand gun control reform. In response, Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton warned that the members would be punished and equated the peaceful protest with the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Two of the members — Representative Jones and Representative Johnson — have been very vocal about Jan. 6 and Washington, D.C., about what that was,” Sexton said at the time. “What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, to doing an insurrection in the State Capitol.”
As I wrote earlier this week, this is the second time that a Republican has downplayed the Jan. 6 insurrection in just the last several days, comparing impassioned protests demanding expanded gun control to the violent, deadly attempted coup in our nation’s capital two years ago.
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