Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones speaks to supporters

Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones speaks to supporters before he was expelled from the state Legislature on April 6, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.

(Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images)

'Fascism, Full Stop': Progressives in Congress Condemn Expulsion of Tennessee Democrats

Congresswoman Summer Lee called the expulsion of state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson "straight-up fascism in its ugliest, most racist form."

Progressives in the U.S. Congress reacted with outrage Thursday after the Republican-dominated Tennessee House voted to expel two lawmakers who joined protesters in demanding gun control legislation during a demonstration inside the state Capitol last week.

"This is fascism," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). "Expelling your political opponents for demanding action on gun violence when children are dying is disgusting."

Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) similarly called the expulsion of state Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson "straight-up fascism in its ugliest, most racist form." Jones and Pearson are both Black; a vote to expel their colleague Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, fell short.

"There is no justification for ousting two legislators who were protesting with and for their constituents," Lee said in a statement. "That two Black men were expelled for standing up against the murder of children—but not their white counterpart—says it all. People are dying because Republicans want to put politics over the lives of the people they represent. They ask for safety for themselves, but not for school children, and they'll sacrifice the lives of our loved ones for their lobbyists."

"Now is not the time to be on the sidelines," Lee added. "We better fight back before it's too late."

Thursday's expulsion votes, held as furious demonstrators gathered inside the Capitol to protest the move, came less than two weeks after a mass shooting at a school in Nashville left three young children and three adults dead.

The expulsion resolutions were led by Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso, and Andrew Farmer, fervent opponents of gun control. Hulsey and Farmer have voted to further weaken Tennessee's firearm regulations on a number of occasions in recent years, earning them high marks from the National Rifle Association.

"This is fascism, full stop," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) tweeted following Thursday's votes. "MAGA Republicans are no longer content with inaction on gun violence—instead of thoughts and prayers, they want to silence and expel politicians who speak up to protect children. I vehemently condemn this racist, undemocratic assault on freedom of speech."

"Republicans may think they won today in Tennessee, but their fascism is only further radicalizing and awakening an earthquake of young people."

Tennessee Republicans—who likened the peaceful Capitol protests in the wake of the shooting to an "insurrection"—justified the removal of Jones and Pearson as a defense of decorum. Last week, Jones, Pearson, and Johnson took to the podium on the state House floor without recognition to show solidarity with those demanding legislative action in response to the massacre in Nashville—the 129th mass shooting in the U.S. this year.

But the claim that the expulsions were necessary to protect chamber norms was widely rejected as a cover for authoritarian political retribution, particularly given Tennessee Republicans' past refusal to remove lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct and other wrongdoing.

"For years, one of your colleagues, an admitted child molester, sat in this chamber—no expulsion," Jones said in a floor speech on Thursday, referring to former Republican state Rep. David Byrd.

Johnson filed resolutions to expel Byrd in 2019 and 2020, but the GOP-controlled chamber declined to act. Byrd went on to win reelection in 2020.

"We had a former speaker sit in this chamber who is now under federal investigation—no expulsion," Jones said in his speech. "We have a member still under federal investigation—no expulsion. We had a member pee in another member's chair, in this chamber—no expulsion. In fact, they're in leadership, in the governor's administration."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined her fellow House progressives in decrying the Tennessee House's actions and predicted the expulsions will only galvanize youth activism.

"Republicans may think they won today in Tennessee, but their fascism is only further radicalizing and awakening an earthquake of young people, both in the South and across the nation," the New York Democrat wrote on social media.

"If you thought youth organizing was strong," she added, "just wait for what's coming."

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