Last week, liberal activism and media outlet the Tennessee Holler published leaked audio from a closed-door House Republican Caucus meeting. The April 10 meeting — regarding the body's Tennessee Three expulsion hearings — was apparently fraught with infighting.
The source of the recording has not been confirmed, and the audio is seemingly clipped in parts. In the recording, House Republicans address the fact that they overwhelmingly voted to expel Democratic Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, who are Black, while narrowly voting against the expulsion of Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, who is white.
“The leaked audio from our private caucus meeting was clipped and did not contain the entirety of our internal conversation," Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) told The Tennessean last week. (In case you're wondering, yes, the House Republican Caucus has booted press from closed-door meetings in the past.)
Intrepid Scene editorial intern Hannah Cron, bless her heart, transcribed the leaked audio. Read the transcript in full below.
Rep. Jason Zachary: Please forgive me if my comments do not come across as Christ-like. I think now more than ever, everyone should recognize that Democrats are not our friends. I listened for the last three days to Democrats — to Sam McKenzie, to Chism, Parkinson — trash us as racists. I’ve never had anybody call me a racist, and for the last three days, all I have heard from them is how this is the most racist place. One of them even [said] "white supremacy." Good lord! We have to realize they are not our friends. They can smile, and that doesn’t mean I can’t be polite to them, but they are not our friends. They destroy the republic and the foundation of who we are, or we preserve it. That is the reality of where we are right now, and if these last three days have not proven that, you need to find a new job. There has never been a more important time for us to be unified. There are 75 of us. Let them call us the names they are going to call us. We need to move forward. "We need to pass the gun bill, we need to pass the pronoun bill," wherever Mark [Cochran] is. Man, we do not slow down because of their crap. We can’t. The only way we move forward with some sort of unity is to call out what happened on the House floor the other night. I feel like we were hung out to dry by a couple of members, and Jody [Barrett], I’m just going to say it here because you signed a letter — you straight-up came to me and said you were 100 percent where I was, and you went on the House floor and you did the opposite. Man, you hung us out to dry. And I like you personally. This is not personal, and if Bryan Terry was here I’d say the same thing to him. This would’ve been bad anyway, but good God, we were called — it brought the racism into it because you didn’t stay with us. But I need to know why — and I don’t want to hear why there wasn’t a preponderance of evidence for an attorney. I need to know why you flipped your vote at the last minute. You didn’t let them know beforehand. Giving Johnny [Garrett] a 15-minute heads-up doesn’t cut it. And if Bryan Terry was here, I (would) want to hear from him too. I have to know.
House Majority Leader William Lamberth: We kicked the staff out. This is the place to say it.
Rep. Jody Barrett: I didn’t lie to anybody. Not one time. And it pisses me off to suggest that I have. And some of my friends in here suggested that I lied. And that’s bull crap. I walked into that room to vote to expel all three of ’em just like all of y’all. And the letter that I sent to the speaker — it says exactly what it says: Throw the book at them. Everything you’ve got. It doesn’t say expulsion, it’s not in there. But, it doesn’t matter.
Barrett: I walked into that room ready to vote. Before we ever started on Jones, I got a list of questions from Johnny Garrett. Johnny says, “If you’re on a list the speaker has to ask questions.” I sat there through Jones, made notes. I went to Johnny [and] said, "Johnny, can I go off script?” Johnny says, “Yeah, go for it.” Speaker never called me. We voted, I hit the green vote because that’s what I’m there for. Then we get into Gloria, and immediately the questions start coming up about the resolutions. I know what she did. I know that she did break the rules. And I know that she deserves to be expelled, but we gotta do it right. And that wasn’t right. While this is going on, the leader came to my desk. He said, “Hey, think we’re doing good?” I said, "No! We haven’t established the case." Gino [Bulso] has had two cracks at her, and the only thing he’s established is that she stood at the well. That’s it. Didn’t fix any of the problems with the resolution. He didn’t establish that she’s been here 10 years or 12 years and knew the rules better than the others. Why were we still in session? Because we’re in between bills. Why did you get gavelled out of order? Because the speaker had to get order. It was disorderly conduct and caused chaos in the whole place. That line of questioning is exactly what I told the leader I needed to ask, because we don’t have it right now. He didn’t sit there and say, "You need to vote yes anyway." He didn’t whip my vote. He walked off. He didn’t go to the speaker and tell the speaker to call on me. So if y’all are gonna come all at me and single me out, and only three of y’all called me this weekend to check on me, I’m gonna defend myself. I told leadership what was going on. I told them I had problems, I had questions. I had a plan to fix it. When the question got called, I went to Johnny. I said, "Johnny, do we have the votes?" He said, “Well if nobody else changes their vote we should be fine. Why are you not going to vote yes?” And I explained it, and I went back to my desk. I sat there and had my internal debate on what to do. And then the bell rings, and I’m concerned that I’m going to vote yes on the resolution that I know is wrong. We didn’t establish that she did all that other stuff. All we established is she walked from there to there. As much as I hate to give John Ray [Clemmons] any credit for anything, it was the smartest thing he said the whole season I’ve been up here. Darren Jernigan in the back of the room says, "We can’t vote on a resolution that’s poorly drafted," and he’s right. Ignore that we were screwing it up, and put my name on something I knew was gonna be in the annals of history as being wrong? It’s no different than some Democrat who’s gonna be on a jury for Donald Trump and vote to convict him even though they know it’s a bogus indictment. These resolutions got copied and pasted. All they changed was the names. She didn’t do the things that were in the resolution.
[Cut in audio.]
Lamberth: I said, “Oh great, does the speaker have you on the list?” You said yes. Then I walked away from your desk never dreaming that you would vote no. I just thought you had some other questions that were gonna build the case. I didn’t mean to walk off like that without getting additional information. I didn’t take it that you were throwing rocks at Gino at that time, but I knew you had some questions. ... I mean if you sign a letter and for the other 65 of us to all think it’s the right thing. I get that you felt strong enough. I mean at this point, do you feel strong that you did the right thing? Or is there any part of you that feels bad about that the rest of us got hung out to dry?
Barrett: 1,000 percent, I did the right thing. I went back and watched it again. I watched the video.
Zachary: The bottom line is you went into that chamber — we had a slim vote count — you went into that chamber and you were a yes, and you straight-up asked me are you 100 percent where I am. And I said, "I’m all three expel no matter what." And you said that we were in the same spot. It hung us out to dry. One vote. And if Terry was here, I’d do the same thing to him.
[Possible cut in audio.]
Garrett: We had the jury already. This obviously wasn’t a trial. But I knew every single one of your vote counts. I knew that we did not have to convince you all. When you came up to me with about two minutes left of Gloria’s final closing and said, "We didn’t do it," I was shocked. In my humble opinion, her by moving from her desk to the well without position, without being recognized, was enough for me to figure out how to get off expulsion. So I was taken [aback]. I was also taken [aback] that you wanted to ask some questions, as if that would make a difference. It’s gonna take some time for all of us to digest your reasoning. To Pearson — I wanted to tell him protesting in the middle of the well is a one-way conversation. No legislation in the history of the world has ever been passed under protest. It’s always a two-way conversation. And that’s been lost. They’ve reduced each and every one of us, including each and every one of our constituents, to, sometimes, a simple protest. And so that, to me, was paramount of what all three of them did by virtue of that simple walk from Gloria’s desk to the middle of the well without that permission, really regardless of what the resolutions did say. ... I think we do understand how important we all are when a hot vote is like it was and then you change. Surprise is one of the most difficult things to deal with. There’s gonna have to be, I think, some time for probably some trust re-established. If I would’ve known that I had to convince you all, I think Gino, I think Farmer, I think others as we thought about that process would’ve been handled a whole lot differently. That’s where the element of surprise has got to be removed. Because that does surprise me, that all of a sudden we have to convince the members after we had asked them so much where they were on this.
Rep. Scott Cepicky: I’ve taken positions up here against leadership. If you believe Gloria’s resolution was wrong, you had the right to file an amendment and go talk to leadership. I think the problem I have is if we don’t stick together, if you don’t believe we’re at war for our republic, with all love and respect to you, you need a different job. The left wants Tennessee so bad, because if they get us, the Southeast falls, and it’s game over for the republic. This is not a neighborhood social gathering. We are fighting for the republic of our country right now. And the world is staring at us — are we gonna stand our ground? I’ve gotten multiple phone calls from other representatives going, “We sure hope you guys stand up, because maybe it will give us the courage to stand up and push back against what’s going to destroy our republic.” You should’ve told leadership ahead of time if you had a doubt. And by God, if you change your mind you should be screaming in the speaker’s ears going, “I’m a no-vote, how does that affect your vote?” If Bryan Terry was standing here, I would be telling Bryan Terry, “You should’ve went to the speaker and said I’m changing my vote.” And if it put us at 65, somebody would’ve taken you behind the dais and explained to you why this was an important vote. It would’ve given us the opportunity to not throw the rest of us under the bus. I’ve been called a racist, a misogynist, a white supremacist more in the last two months than I have in my entire life, and by golly, I’m biting my tongue. And I’m telling you, Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, those days are wearing thin right now. And 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 the state that I chose to move to, and by golly, it’s gotta stop. I’m sorry for getting angry here. My father was D-Day plus four, and he fought for this freaking country, and many of his friends died. You gotta do what’s right, even if you think it might be wrong. You gotta do what’s right. And you gotta protect this freaking republic here in Tennessee, or you know what? Let’s all go the hell home. I’m getting freaking gray hairs sitting here listening to this bullshit. I’m sorry, I apologize. I’m getting sick of this. Do the right thing for the people of Tennessee and we’ll come out smelling like a rose. Fight for the people of Tennessee.