Bishop William J. Barber II

Bishop William J. Barber II speaks at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on May 20, 2021.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Bishop Barber Rebukes Tennessee GOP for ​Bid to Oust Democratic Lawmakers

"Let's be clear—Republican extremists in the Tennessee Legislature want to silence the voices of dead children."

Poor People's Campaign co-chair Bishop William J. Barber II on Wednesday stood in solidarity with three Democratic Tennessee state lawmakers facing a Republican-led expulsion effort over protesting for gun reform on the House floor after last week's Nashville elementary school massacre.

"Let's be clear—Republican extremists in the Tennessee Legislature want to silence the voices of dead children," Barber tweeted. "They are impeding three brave legislators, who articulate the concerns of millions, because they aim to keep families whose children were murdered unseen and unheard."

"The blood of murdered children cries out for us, and extremist Tennessee Republicans are content to ignore them."

Republican leadership in the Tennessee House of Representatives began the process of expelling state Reps. Justin Jones (D-52), Gloria Johnson (D-90), and Justin Pearson (D-86) on Monday. The Democrats used a bullhorn to lead chants supporting gun control legislation on the chamber floor while thousands of Nashville-area students rallied outside following the March 27 mass shooting at Covenant School that left three 9-year-old students, three staff members, and the shooter dead.

Noting that Jones, Johnson, and Pearson each represent more than 70,000 Tennesseans, Barber said the lawmakers are "standing on the principles of democracy, freedom of speech and debate, and the right to redress of grievances."

"Expelling them is an attempt to expel the voices of the people," he added.

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-25) compared the actions of lawmakers and protesters to the deadly January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection, arguing that "if this is not what rises to the level of expulsion then tell me what does."

In an interview with WATE, Pearson retorted: "The thousands of children and adults who marched outside of the people's House are not insurrectionists. My walk, my colleagues' walk to the House floor, was in a peaceful and civil manner, and it was not an insurrection."

Speaking on CNN Wednesday morning, Jones called the effort to oust him and his colleagues "morally insane."

"It's very concerning and it represents a clear and present danger to democracy all across this nation that should trouble us all," Jones added.

Johnson told WKRN Tuesday that "we have had admitted child molesters on the floor, we have had members that have peed in each other's office chairs, we have someone who has illegally prescribed drugs to their cousin-mistress and nothing ever happened to those folks."

"It was really just about 20 seconds of us talking at the mic before it was cut and before recess was called," she added. "Never in a million years did we imagine that they would try to expel members in the body for speaking for their constituents when we had not been allowed to do that previously in the day."

The besieged lawmakers' plight has drawn the attention of national Democratic figures. In a Tuesday media briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre argued that "by doing what they're doing with these three Democratic legislators, they're shrugging in the face of yet another tragic school shooting while our kids continue to pay the price."

A two-thirds vote is required to expel a member of the Tennessee House, which is currently composed of 75 Republicans and 24 Democrats. The vote is slated for Thursday.

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