In a rare move that has drawn both criticism and praise, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with three Democratic Tennessee lawmakers on Monday at the White House, after the trio faced expulsion votes over their act of protest advocating for gun control.
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 had 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.
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 Tennessee trio's meeting with the Biden administration has sparked debate, with some praising the president and vice president for their support and others claiming it is a sign of the executive branch's overreach.
"It's shocking that the President of the United States would meet with individuals who were justifiably expelled from their state legislature for their disruptive behavior," said Tennessee State Representative Tim Rudd.
The three Tennessee lawmakers said they discussed red flag laws, safe storage laws, an assault weapons ban, and strengthening background checks during their time with Biden.
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.
The expelled representatives called the expulsions undemocratic and racist.
Jones and Pearson were 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.”
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.
The Tennessee trio's meeting with the Biden administration has stirred controversy. Some argue that the meeting shows the president and vice president's support for gun control, while others argue that it is a sign of the executive branch's overreach.
The White House has yet to comment on the meeting, but the president has previously said he is exhausted all the avenues at his disposal as president to stop gun violence.
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 that 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.