Tennessee Republicans engaged in some tense infighting following their disastrous expulsion of two Black lawmakers who protested gun violence on the Statehouse floor, a leaked audio recording revealed this week.
The Tennessee Holler, a local progressive outlet, published the audio on Thursday in which several GOP lawmakers behind the effort to oust Tennessee state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson could be heard complaining to one another about the public scrutiny they received over the expulsions. (Both Jones and Pearson were reinstated on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.) The complaints referred to negative press Tennessee Republicans received, including accusations that the lawmakers and their actions were racist.
Those heard on the audio reportedly included Tennessee state Reps. Jason Zachary, Johnny Garrett, Scott Cepicky, William Lamberth, and Jody Barrett. The Tennessean, which confirmed the audio came from a closed caucus meeting on Monday, reported that the recording had been edited and didn't include some other members who spoke during that meeting. Neither NBC News nor MSNBC has independently verified the authenticity of the audio. The Tennessee House GOP released a statement in response to the audio saying it had "no comment about private conversations."
The lawmakers in the room sounded quite upset with Barrett for voting against Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson’s ouster even though she protested alongside Jones and Pearson. Johnson, who is white, avoided expulsion by a single vote.
In the audio, Barrett's fellow Republicans could be heard criticizing him for his decision to vote against Johnson's ouster, because the optics of removing two Black lawmakers — but not a white one who engaged in similar activity — was obviously bad.
“Man, you hung us out to dry,” Zachary reportedly told Barrett, adding: “This would’ve been bad anyway, but good God, we were called — it brought the racism into it.”
Cepicky can reportedly be heard complaining:
“I’ve been called a racist, a misogynist, a white supremacist ... more in the last two months of my life than I have my entire life. ... I'm going to have to swallow this seeing Mr. Jones back up here, walking these hallowed halls that the greats of Tennessee stood in, and watch them disrespect this state that I chose to move to.”
Cepicky can apparently be heard claiming that Republicans were “at war for our Republic,” eventually noting, “You gotta do what’s right, even if you think it’s wrong.”
The logic here is pretty dumb, in my opinion. As I wrote for The ReidOut Blog last week, Tennessee Republicans had been targeting Jones and Pearson for months. Expelling the two of them was racist — but it also exposed a pattern of racism that preceded the expulsion. The fact that most of the men on the call seemed to think including a white woman in the expulsion would have quieted claims of racism speaks to how ignorant they truly are.
Check out the audio below.
It’s clear being publicly dragged — now, by a national audience — is getting to Tennessee Republicans.
Just watch this clip of Jones calling out Tennessee Republican Rep. John Ragan for referring to God in his justification for supporting measures that would restrict classroom discussions about race and inequality.
“Stop using God to justify your bigotry,” Jones says. “Stop using God to justify hatred and racism.”
Republicans can try to silence Jones with their gavels. But they’re starting to realize they’ve unleashed a torrent of criticism upon themselves. And that won’t quiet down anytime soon.