Tennessee House Republicans were frustrated and fighting amongst themselves after the majority of them voted to expel Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson — two Black men — but spared Rep Gloria Johnson — an older white woman — for protesting lax gun laws on the House floor, according to an audio recording obtained by The Tennessee Holler.
During the recording, which TPM did not independently verify, Republican lawmakers can be heard aggressively confronting their caucus members who voted against the Johnson expulsion, complaining that their refusal to expel her led to the party as a whole being tagged as “racist” and “white supremacist.”
“I think now more than ever everyone should recognize that Democrats are not our friends,” one member said on the recording. “I listened for the last three days to Democrats… trash us as racists. I’ve never had anybody call me a racist… Good Lord, we have to realize they are not our friends.”
“I feel like we were hung out to dry by a couple of members,” the member continued, referring to the handful of Republicans who voted against the expulsions.
The recording comes after the Republican-led House voted to expel Pearson and Jones for participating in a peaceful protest against lax gun laws from the floor of the chamber.
During the protest, the two Black lawmakers joined a group of demonstrators who packed the Capitol building and the House gallery and chanted, calling for stricter gun laws. Pearson and Jones cheered on the protestors from the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn.
A third Democrat, Johnson, also joined the two Black lawmakers on the floor but was spared from expulsion by one vote after some Republicans said she was calmer and that she didn’t use the bullhorn during the protest.
The selective expulsions have led to outrage across the country. The move has been criticized by local and national Democrats as a racist punitive action against two young, progressive Black men.
“If we don’t stick together, if we don’t believe we’re at war for our republic, with all love and respect to you, you need a different job,” another member said, once again referring to the members who did not vote with the GOP. ”The left wants Tennessee so bad… We’re fighting for the republic of our country right now.”
“You gotta do what’s right, even if you think it might be wrong,” he continued, raising his voice.
As the criticism poured in, one of the members who chose not to oust Johnson defended himself, saying the Republican lawmakers who questioned her ahead of the vote were not effective in proving Johnson deserved to be expelled.
“We haven’t established the case,” the lawmaker said. “The only thing [we] established is she stood at the well. That’s it… [we] didn’t establish that she’s been here 10 years or 12 years and knew the rules better than others.”
“I know that she did break the rules,” he continued. “I know that she deserves to be expelled but we gotta do it right. And that wasn’t right.”
Several national and local news outlets, including CNN and MSNBC, covered the audio recording that was obtained by The Tennessee Holler, a local progressive independent news outlet whose founder Justin Kanew has been covering the gun law protests and subsequent outrage over Republicans’ expulsion efforts.
Tennessee House Republicans have declined to discuss the Tennessee Holler’s audio recording.
“We have no comment about private conversations,” The House Republican Caucus told several news outlets when asked about the leaked audio.
“I’m not surprised at all.” Pearson said in an interview with the local NBC affiliate WSMV. “As I’ve said, the Republican party is trying to turn our democracy into a mob-ocracy, where they are in complete control like a mob and rule over people.”
Both Pearson and Jones were both appointed back to their seats this week as interim House members. A special election will be held to fill Pearson and Jones’ seats permanently. Both are eligible to run for reelection but they will once again need to win a special election to formally return to their seats for the rest of their two-year term.