Kamala Harris to meet with expelled Tennessee lawmakers


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris made a last-minute trip to Tennessee on Friday, hours after the Republican-controlled House expelled two Democratic lawmakers from the Legislature in retaliation for their role in a protest calling for more gun control in the aftermath of a school shooting in Nashville. A third Democrat was narrowly spared by a one-vote margin.

Harris will meet with lawmakers, as well as young people advocating for tougher gun control laws, according to a tweet from her spokesperson, Kirsten Allen. She will also meet privately with expelled state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson and with Rep. Gloria Johnson, who survived the vote for her ouster.

The vice president’s motorcade was seen arriving at Nashville’s historically Black Fisk University, where students gathered for an event in the chapel. Her meeting with lawmakers was private.

Ahead of the event, students and others were lined up down the block, hoping to enter the school’s Memorial Chapel. Inside several young Black women wore sweaters with the initials for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a Black sorority that Harris belonged to. One of those was Jasmyn Thrash. “It’s exciting to see someone from my organization doing great and amazing things,” she said.

Nashville Metro Councilperson Zulfat Suara addressed the crowd before Harris arrived, saying the expulsions “tell us exactly what we need to know about how the state views young Black men” standing up for what they believe. Evoking the city’s civil rights history, she said, “Just like John Lewis and Diane Nash did many years ago, we too will resist.”

Pearson, Johnson and Jones entered the packed chapel before Harris was expected to speak, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

The visit comes after President Joe Biden called the expulsions “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”

“Rather than debating the merits of the issue (of gun control), these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee,” Biden said in a Thursday statement.

The White House also said Friday afternoon that Biden spoke with Jones, Pearson and Johnson via conference call, thanking them “for their leadership in seeking to ban assault weapons and standing up for our democratic values.”

The oustings of Jones and Pearson, who are both Black, drew accusations of racism. Johnson, who is white, was allowed to continue to serve in the chamber. Republican leadership denied that race was a factor.

GOP leaders said Thursday’s actions – used only a handful times since the Civil War – were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers’ disruptions of House proceedings through protest would be tolerated.

Republican state Rep. Gino Bulso said the three Democrats had “effectively conducted a mutiny.”

Most state legislatures retain the power to expel members, but it is generally a rarely-used punishment for lawmakers accused of serious misconduct.

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Miller reported from Washington.


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