(CNN) — Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville on Friday where she delivered an impassioned speech advocating for gun control and met with a pair of state lawmakers who were expelled from the General Assembly after protesting on the state House floor.
“Let’s not fall for the false choice, which suggests that you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want reasonable gun safety laws, we can and should do both,” Harris said in her remarks at the Fisk University chapel.
“The underlying issue is one that we are witnessing, over and over again, this community experienced it firsthand just 11 days ago,” she continued, referencing a mass shooting that devastated a Nashville school last month.
The vice president met with advocates, the entire Democratic Tennessee state caucus and privately with former Tennessee Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, both Black men, who were expelled from the chamber the day before after protesting in favor of gun control. Rep. Gloria Johnson, a White woman, who was spared in the Republican-backed ousting — which was decried by the trio as oppressive, vindictive and racially motivated — also attended that meeting.
The vice president applauded the three lawmakers that had faced expulsion votes, saying they “chose to lead and show courage.”
“And they understood the importance, these three, of standing to say the people will not be silenced, to say that a democracy hears the cries, hears the pleas, who hears the demands of its people who say that children should be able to live and be safe and go to school and not be in fear,” she said.
Harris also used the moment to convey the administration’s seriousness about democracy, which a White House official told CNN earlier Friday was one of the objectives of the trip.
“We understand when we took an oath to represent the people who elected us that we speak on behalf of them,” she said. It wasn’t about the three of these leaders. It was about who they were representing. it’s about whose voices they were channeling. Understand that — and is that not what a democracy allows?”
The last-minute trip shows how much focus the Biden administration is placing on this issue and gun control. Harris was previously scheduled to have no public events on Friday.
President Joe Biden spoke with the three Tennessee lawmakers to thank them for their “leadership in seeking to ban assault weapons and standing up for our democratic values” and invited all three to the White House, according to an administration readout from Friday evening.
In a late-night statement on Thursday, Biden called the expulsion of the two lawmakers from the state’s House of Representatives “shocking, undemocratic and without precedent” and criticized Republicans for not taking greater action on gun reform.
“Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee,” the president said. “A strong majority of Americans want lawmakers to act on commonsense gun safety reforms that we know will save lives. But instead, we’ve continued to see Republican officials across America double down on dangerous bills that make our schools, places of worship, and communities less safe.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.