The House Republican Caucus in Tennessee has shown significant internal dissension over the recent expulsion vote of three Democratic state representatives. Leaked audio from a closed caucus meeting reveals that Republican leadership reacted strongly to members who voted against the expulsion of Rep. Gloria Johnson last week. The Republicans were forced to remain united after voting to expel Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, but not Johnson. The leak shattered the message of unity the House GOP has sought as it moves forward from the vote. The outcome of the vote thrust Democratic representatives into the national spotlight and drew nationwide criticism. During the heated meeting, leaders of the GOP hurled accusations at members over their decisions, and called out Reps. Jody Barrett and Bryan Terry for breaking with the caucus by voting against Johnson’s expulsion.
Although some republicans claim the audio was selectively edited, the exchange makes it clear that party leadership believed that they had the votes from their caucus locked in to expel all three Democrats. Barrett defended his vote in the audio, arguing that leadership failed to prove claims against Johnson as laid out in the expulsion resolution. Despite significant pressure from GOP leadership to toe the party line, members expressed their frustrations at the meeting, with Rep. Scott Cepicky stating that members must “protect this freaking republic here in Tennessee, or you know what, let’s all go the hell home”.
Despite these heated exchanges, the House Republican Caucus has said that it will focus on pressuring ahead and passing the state budget.
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