President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with three Democratic Tennessee lawmakers at the White House on Monday, after the trio faced expulsion votes over their act of protest advocating for gun control.
In the Oval Office, Biden told the Tennessee lawmakers, “If you stand up for kids, you’re standing up our communities and democratic values.”
The three Democrats — Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson — were each subject to an ouster vote by Tennessee Republican lawmakers earlier this month over their protest on the state House floor to advocate for gun control, where they used a bullhorn to address those in the room. The lawmakers’ act of protest and rare expulsions from the body’s Republican supermajority came days after a mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school that left six people dead, including three 9-year-old students.
Following the White House meeting, the lawmakers told reporters they discussed red flag laws, safe storage laws, an assault weapons ban and strengthening background checks during their time with the president.
Pearson said the meeting focused on “the need to have more gun violence prevention” at the federal and state levels.
In a resolution, state Republicans had accused the trio of “knowingly and intentionally” bringing “disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives” without being recognized to speak, CNN affiliate WSMV reported earlier this month.
Jones and Pearson, who are Black, were forced out of the GOP-controlled legislature. Johnson, who is White, was not expelled. The expelled representatives called the expulsions undemocratic and racist.
Jones and Pearson were each sent back to the Tennessee House on an interim basis after local boards in their constituencies voted to reappoint them.
Biden on Monday called the Republican legislature’s actions “shocking,” “undemocratic” and “without any precedent.” He said that “nothing is guaranteed by Democracy,” and that “every generation has to fight for it.”
“You all are doing just that,” the president added.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, the lawmakers — dubbed the “Tennessee Three” — told CNN’s Abby Phillip that they planned to ask Biden to declare a public health emergency on gun violence.
“I think that we need an emergency response because we’re facing a crisis situation … we need the help from our national leaders because we’re in a state where the only action that our colleagues took in response to the mass shooting in Nashville was to expel the two youngest Black lawmakers and then to pass a law to protect gun manufacturers,” Jones told CNN.
It’s a big ask for Biden, who has previously said he’s exhausted all the avenues at his disposal as president to stop gun violence.
Biden, whose party no longer controls both chambers of Congress, has urged members on Capitol Hill to act. But after the Nashville shooting, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington were quick to concede that Congress was unlikely to move on substantive gun control efforts.
The president has taken more than 20 executive actions on guns since taking office, including regulating the use of “ghost guns” and sales of stabilizing braces that effectively turn pistols into rifles. He also signed a bipartisan bill in 2022 which expands background checks and provides federal funding for so-called red flag laws — although it failed to ban any weapons and fell far short of what Biden and his party had advocated for.
The Tennessee trio all spoke to Biden during the expulsion vote earlier this month. In that conversation, Biden “thanked them for their leadership in seeking to ban assault weapons,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the conversation.
Harris traveled to Nashville earlier this month to advocate for stricter gun control measures and also privately met with Jones, Pearson and Johnson.