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Tennessee lawmakers to vote whether to expel 3 Democrats over gun control protest

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Tennessee House of Representatives votes today on expelling three Democratic lawmakers.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The lawmakers led chants alongside pro-gun control protesters in the House gallery last week, just days after Covenant School shooting in Nashville occurred. Only two House members have been expelled since the 1800s, and both times it was through a bipartisan vote.

INSKEEP: Not so bipartisan this time. Political reporter Blaise Gainey of WPLN has been following this fight. Good morning.

BLAISE GAINEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: A alluded to the events that led up to this. Give me the bigger story. What happened?

GAINEY: Yeah. So after that school shooting you referenced, thousands of protesters, including school-age kids and parents, took to the capitol to demand tighter gun restrictions. Their demands were not acknowledged by Republican leaders, who continued business as usual. As a result, those protests grew. And on Thursday during the House floor session, three Democrats - Representatives Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin J. Pearson of Memphis and Justin Jones of Nashville - were upset that the protests were being ignored. They took to the podium and began chanting using a megaphone. Here's some of what that sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose House?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our House.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose House?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our House.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose House?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our House.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Gun control now.

INSKEEP: I guess this is a violation of decorum of the House of Representatives for lawmakers who are not actually in charge to get up there, and chanting using a megaphone in the House of Representatives. That is why they would be expelled. But how have they responded to the move against them?

GAINEY: Yeah. So they've responded by basically saying that, you know, them being expelled for something sort of minor and just a House rule being broken is too harsh of a penalty. As you mentioned earlier, the only people to be expelled before were literally committing crimes and accused of sexual assault, so things that were much more serious. But the community around them also is saying the same, that they shouldn't be expelled. And if they are expelled, 210,000 people will lose their representative.

INSKEEP: Oh. And I guess we should mention these, of course, would be Democratic-leaning districts, or at least districts that elected Democrats to this heavily Republican legislature.

GAINEY: That is correct.

INSKEEP: They're from around Nashville, is that right?

GAINEY: So Justin Jones is in Nashville. You know, so all the supporters know him. He was an activist before. He's held sit-ins and led protests before being elected. Justin J. Pearson is from Memphis, also a blue dot in this red state. Gloria Johnson is from Knoxville, where - the side of her county where she's at is - leans a little more Democrat, but the actual county is essentially Republican.

INSKEEP: OK. You mentioned one of them, Justin J. Pearson. I believe we've got some sound of Representative Pearson talking about his potential expulsion. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN J PEARSON: We are not experiencing democracy and our voices being silenced. That they have a partisan vote, the first partisan vote, to expel House members is and should frighten every Tennessean. And it should frighten Americans.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, how are Republicans explaining this move?

GAINEY: Yeah, I mean, the House speaker has called the three insurrectionists and said they were trying to incite a riot. And since they've broken so many House rules, they should be expelled.

INSKEEP: All right. We'll continue following this story, too. Blaise Gainey of WPLN. Thanks so much.

GAINEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Blaise Gainey
Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.
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