WASHINGTON (AP) — Three Tennessee lawmakers who became Democratic heroes for facing expulsion after participating in gun control protests visited the White House on Monday, describing themselves as “representatives of a movement” that is demanding greater restrictions on firearms to save lives.
“Courage is something that can be contagious,” said Rep. Justin Jones after an Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Although Biden and Harris have sought stronger gun control, including a renewed assault weapons ban, Jones suggested that he prodded the administration to take firmer action during their private conversation. He described seeing busts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez in the Oval Office, describing them as people who “acted outside of the political paradigm of what was possible, and they changed political realities.”
Jones said “sometimes we have to do something out of the ordinary.”
During brief public remarks as they began their meeting, Biden thanked the lawmakers who have become known as the “Tennessee three” for their advocacy.
“You’re standing up for our kids, you’re standing up for our communities,” Biden told Jones, Rep. Justin Pearson and Rep. Gloria Johnson.
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.
“You cannot expel hope and you can’t expel a movement,” Pearson said outside the White House on Monday.
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.
By CHRIS MEGERIAN, AAMER MADHANI and JOSH BOAK Associated Press
Eds: UPDATES: With AP Photos.; New lead with lawmaker comments
Photo: President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Tennessee state lawmakers State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, left, State Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, second from left, and State Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, right, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, April 24, 2023, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris listens third from left. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)