WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday thanked three Tennessee lawmakers for “standing up” after they faced expulsion for participating in gun control protests at their statehouse.
“You’re standing up for our kids, you’re standing up for our communities,” Biden told Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson during an Oval Office meeting.
Pearson, a first-term state representative from Memphis, recently reappointed to his seat by the Shelby County Commission following his ouster by state Republicans.
Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden described the expulsion votes as “shocking” and “undemocratic.”
“Nothing is guaranteed about our democracy — every generation has to fight for it,” he said.
The episode has turned the lawmakers, known as the “Tennessee three,” into Democratic heroes. Harris already visited Nashville earlier this month to show her support.
The statehouse protest took place days after the shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school where three children and three adults were killed. The three lawmakers — Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson — approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn as protesters filled the galleries.
The Republicans who control the Tennessee legislature called for their expulsion because they disrupted House proceedings. Pearson and Jones, both Black, were expelled, while Johnson was not.
Pearson and Jones were later reinstated on an interim basis by local officials, and they plan to run in a special election to finish their terms.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week that Biden was “proud” and “appreciative” to see the three state representatives calling for stronger gun restrictions, particularly a ban on so-called assault weapons.
During a phone call earlier this month, Biden thanked them “for speaking out and for standing their ground, and being very clear about what’s needed to protect their communities,” Jean-Pierre said.