1 of 8 | After meeting with President Biden, Tennessee State Representative Justin Pearson (R) speaks to the news media alongside fellow state lawmakers Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
April 24 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden met Monday with three Tennessee Democrats, who faced expulsion from office after staging a protest over gun violence in the state Capitol in late March, and thanked them for their commitment to gun reform.
Tennessee state Reps. Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson met with Biden in the Oval Office, where the president praised their commitment to protecting American children from mass shootings.
"You're standing up for our kids, you're standing up for our communities," Biden told the trio of Tennessee lawmakers.
"What the Republican legislature did was shocking, it was undemocratic. We passed the most significant gun laws, but there's more to do," the president said.
"When I was a senator, I was able to lead the fight with Dianne Feinstein to block the assault weapons -- the sale of assault weapons and the number of cartridges that could be in a magazine," Biden said. "And I think we still have to do that."
"Nothing is guaranteed about democracy," the president added. "Every generation has to fight for it. And you all are doing just that."
Black lawmakers Jones and Pearson were briefly expelled from the state legislature earlier this month before being quickly reseated by local councils. Johnson, who is white, survived an ouster by one vote.
Tennessee's General Assembly ended its legislative session last week without making any changes to the state's gun laws, four weeks after a deadly mass shooting at a school in Nashville.
The shooting in Nashville killed six people, including three children, on March 27.
Days after the massacre, Jones, Pearson and Johnson stormed the House podium in a call for stronger gun control measures that have been blocked by Republicans in the state.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton accused the trio of breaking the rules of decorum and attempting to incite an insurrection, and the Republican-majority legislature voted April 6 to boot them from the House.
The move prompted immediate condemnation from the White House, with Biden calling the ousters "shocking, undemocratic and without precedent."
While both Jones and Pearson were expelled, Johnson was able to keep her House seat after a 65-30 vote, which was one shy of the total needed to oust her.
The next day Vice President Kamala Harris met privately with Jones and Pearson during a surprise visit to Nashville, where Biden spoke to the lawmakers via conference call and invited all three to the White House for a formal sit-down.
Two weeks ago, the Nashville Metropolitan Council in House District 52 voted unanimously to reinstate Jones, who was sworn in on the steps of the state Capitol shortly afterward. Days later, the Shelby County Board of Commission, in Memphis' District 86, also voted to reinstate Pearson, who has also since retaken his seat.
Suspicious that racism may have played a role in the dismissals, a handful of Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a civil-rights investigation.
Last Friday, Republican Tennesee Gov. Bill Lee announced a plan to call a special legislative session focused on gun reform in the wake of the shooting at a private Christian school.
He urged the legislature to pass a limited law that would keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who pose an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others.
"There is broad agreement that dangerous, unstable individuals who intend to harm themselves or others should not have access to weapons," he added.
But Republicans have already indicated that red flag legislation would be a "non-starter" in the state House.