Tennessee special session comes to an unexpected (and acrimonious) close

AP Photo/George Walker IV

After days of finger-pointing and blame-shifting between House and Senate leadership, the special session called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in response to the Covenant School shootings came to an unexpected end on Tuesday after leaders in both chambers struck a deal. The state Senate, which had closed its committees after passing four pieces of legislation, was the clear winner in the negotiations, with the House approving the bills adopted by the Senate and their counterparts voting to concur with the minor changes made in the House.


24 hours ago it looked like the special session was going to drag on for at least another week after Sen. Jack Johnson postponed a fundraiser scheduled for September 10th because lawmakers cannot raise money while they’re in session. Johnson made it clear that the reason he canceled the original date for his “Boots & Jeans, BBQ & Beans” shindig was the distinct possibility that the session would still be going on next weekend, but once it became clear that the Senate had no interest in hearing any bills beyond the four already approved in the opening days of the session, it looks like House leadership relucantly embraced the inevitable.

The key word there is “reluctantly”, and it looks like there’s still plenty of bad blood between GOP leadership in the two chambers.

The Tennessee House ended its special session to angry cries from protestors, screaming “Vote them out” from the galleries as lawmakers quickly emptied into the halls. The Senate had ended early in the morning.

The House kicked off Tuesday morning with tempers already high after a contentious Monday afternoon session. House Republicans moved to quickly end the floor session, after House Republicans reached an agreement with the Senate to end the special session.

House Republicans had hoped to push through additional bills, which Senate Republicans largely refused to do.

“Unfortunately, we have no additional business to attend to in this particular body,” Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said. “By the way, I wish we did.”

House business devolved into a back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats, as Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, attempted to bring a vote of no confidence against House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. Jones was disciplined on Monday afternoon after Sexton ruled him twice out of order, under new House rules.


It was clear days ago that the Senate wasn’t going to pass any more legislation of its own, and after the chamber closed its committees the chances of any additional House bills receiving a vote were roughly the same as Elvis showing up outside of Graceland this afternoon to demand a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich. House leaders should have recognized reality and gaveled the session to a close last week, but for whatever reason Lamberth and other House leaders kept insisting on running dozens of bills up the flagpole.

With gun control off the table, Democrats and their anti-gun allies were inevitably going to howl in protest during the session and after, and the decision by House leaders to drag the session out into a second week only gave gun control activists and Democrats like Jones a high-profile daily stage in Nashville to bash Republicans and fundraise for their own favored candidates. It was an act of political malpractice for Lee to go forward with his special session knowing full well that the votes weren’t there for his “temporary mental health order of protection,” but that unforced error was compounded when the House insisted on keeping the session going even though it was clear the Senate had no interest in letting the circus continue.

Some of those anti-gun activists are already talking about running stealth candidates in the GOP primary next year, but I’d honestly love to see a legitimate primary challenge to Lamberth and other House leaders who chose to keep the session going days longer than necessary. At the very least Lamberth and those other House leaders owe their constituents an explanation for their inexplicable recalcitrance, and the voters can decide whether or not they should represent them in the statehouse going forward.


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