92 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office
582 days until Election Day 2022
April 5, 2021 by David Silverberg
Having tried and failed to stop President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan from assisting Americans to recover from the pandemic and receive vaccines, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has now turned his fire against the American Jobs Plan intended to restore America’s infrastructure.
Additionally, in the past month Donalds attempted to play the race card against Biden’s opposition to Georgia’s voter suppression law and defended the Senate filibuster. Along with the rest of the Republican caucus in Congress, he tried to politically exploit the immigration influx at the southern border and opposed a bipartisan solution to farm labor needs and the agricultural workforce.
All of these activities were rhetorical; legislatively, Donalds proposed a widely ignored alternative to the American Rescue Plan. His proposal to protect Southwest Florida from interruptions in harmful algal bloom monitoring remains in committee.
In terms of serving his district, Donalds held a series of photo opportunities to prove that he has not forgotten Southwest Florida. However, he held no town halls or public events allowing constituents unrestricted access or unfiltered questions of his policies or positions. His media appearances were only with right-wing media outlets where he did not face skeptical or challenging questions.
Opposing rescue and jobs
In some rare and remarkable reporting covering local governance, yesterday, April 4, five reporters from the Naples Daily News published details of the benefits that Southwest Florida cities and counties will receive from the American Rescue Plan—and they are significant.
The article, “American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” investigated the amounts that local jurisdictions will be receiving and their internal debates on how to use it.
Whatever the outcome of the debates at the county and municipal level on how to spend the money, it is clear that the dollars will significantly assist Southwest Florida in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Donalds vociferously fought passage of the American Rescue Plan, which passed the House twice and the Senate and was signed into law on March 11.
With implementation of the American Rescue Plan under way, Donalds, along with the rest of the Republican Party, turned his fire against Biden’s effort to restore and improve American infrastructure, fight climate change and provide American jobs. They focused on the Made in America Tax Plan, decrying its proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent and make the ultra-wealthy pay a fair share of taxes.
“Biden is BAD for business,” Donalds tweeted on April 2. “Under this Admin, the incentive of corporations to do business in America has diminished greatly as a result of Biden’s anti-economic growth agenda. Raising the corporate tax is just another America last policy being adopted by the Biden Admin.” (Editor’s note: that tweet should be read “America-last” as opposed to Trump’s “America First,” slogan, which Donalds supports.)
He also complained that the American Jobs Plan was the Green New Deal in disguise and would provide only 5 percent of its funding for roads, highways and bridges, work against the coal and natural gas industries (in favor of solar, wind and renewable energy sources) and end anti-union “right to work” laws.
And in an unintentional bit of irony, on March 29 Donalds marked Vietnam Veterans Day by tweeting “Florida is home to the second-largest number of Vietnam War veterans in the nation, many of whom live in SW Florida. Today and every day, we offer our immense gratitude & appreciation for their selfless service to our nation.”
The American Jobs Plan, which he is so loudly denouncing, provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to Veterans Administration facilities like those in Southwest Florida.
Defending the filibuster and voter suppression
The US House of Representatives and the US Senate operate as separate and distinct institutions by design; in fact, Thomas Jefferson wanted each to operate as though the other didn’t exist. Members of the House are prohibited by House rules from referring to the Senate by name in their debates and speeches; they can only refer to “the other chamber” and the same goes for senators. This is to reduce institutional friction and maintain institutional independence.
That’s why it was surprising to see Donalds defending the Senate filibuster. It’s a practice peculiar to the Senate; the House has nothing like it.
Donalds’ defense of the Senate filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law, which has otherwise been blasted across the country as a deliberate attempt to dampen voting by communities of color and reduce democratic participation. He called Democratic condemnation of the law “race baiting” and was moved to issue a distinct statement expressing his sense of outrage that Biden had called the Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity.”
(Fun fact: The longest continuous filibuster in Senate history was conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (at the time a “Dixiecrat” Democrat but later a Republican), who in 1957 spoke continuously for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to stop a civil rights bill guaranteeing Black voting rights.)
Biden, stated Donalds, was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.” Considering that Biden had in the past opposed school busing along with southern segregationists, “that dark stain on our Republic is personal to me and many Black Americans like me.”
The For the People Act (House Resolution (HR) 1) is designed to combat voter suppression and ensure that elections remain open and accessible to all voters.
Donalds denounced it on the House floor and called it “the radical takeover of our elections.”
“Abolishing voter ID laws, ending signature verification, and putting into place taxpayer-funded campaigns is detrimental to every American’s right to a free and fair election and the harmful rhetoric of President Biden cannot evade this fact,” Donalds argued in his statement.
The For the People Act passed the House on March 3 despite Donalds’ “no” vote and is now in the Senate where it faces a Republican filibuster.
Immigration and the southern border
With little else to criticize and Biden actions to date proving overwhelmingly popular, Republicans have seized on the migrant influx at the southern US border as a point of attack. However, without Donald Trump whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing of foreigners, Republican attacks have lacked the certain je ne sais quoi that Trump provided. By regarding migrants and refugees as human beings seeking safety and refuge rather than subhumans bent on rape and pillage, Biden is taking heat out of the Trumpist fire.
Donalds sought to remedy that. In keeping with the rest of the Republican caucus for the past two weeks he was fixated on the southern border.
“Instead of traveling back home to Delaware, Biden should head to our Southern Border immediately,” he tweeted on March 16. “Since taking office, illegal migrants, drug smugglers, & human traffickers have had their sights set on entering our country and Biden has given them the key. Secure our border, now.”
Donalds also posted a video of himself walking beside the temporary barriers protecting the US Capitol two days before they were scheduled to come down anyway and called for them to be dismantled and erected instead along the southern US border.
“…The Democrats actually do love walls, and they do love fencing—to protect them. But when it comes to our border, they don’t want any protection. Let’s take down these walls in D.C. and relocate them to our Southern Border,” he said in the March 19 video as he walked along the barrier.
The 19th Congressional District is not on the US territorial border and for most Southwest Floridians the only signs of the migrant influx are landscape workers mowing their lawns, replacing their roofs and agricultural laborers making their full dinner tables possible.
In another unintentional irony, when a bipartisan solution to the problem of undocumented seasonal agricultural workers—who are badly needed by local farm owners and growers—came before the House, Donalds voted against it.
And in a less amusing irony, the barriers were indeed removed. Then, last Friday, April 2, Capitol Police Officer William Evans was killed when Noah Green attacked him and another officer by driving his car into them—while they were protecting the Capitol.
Donalds of course issued an appropriate tribute.
Commentary: Past and prologue
Not all of Donalds’ initiatives in the last two weeks were negative. On March 17 he introduced his second piece of legislation, the Responsible and Effective Spending Cuts of Undesirable Expenditures (RESCUE) Act of 2021 (HR 1955), which is his answer to Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
Technically, the purpose of HR 1955 is “to temporarily modify the application of the sequester under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.”
That’s an interesting concept since there were complaints about pay-as-you-go budgeting and sequestration since the idea was introduced over 10 years ago. However, Donalds never submitted any text for the bill and it remains nothing more than a name and a number. An observer could be forgiven for concluding that this was not a serious piece of legislation but a bit of anti-Biden showboating.
Donalds has also been at pains to show that he is aware of his district. He and some of his staff took an airboat tour of the Everglades (which is actually outside the District boundaries), he and his family visited the Naples Botanical Garden (whose expansion was made possible by a generous donation from his predecessor, Francis Rooney), and he toured the Collier County Mosquito Control District headquarters, so he is cognizant of the local mosquitos.
Actually, for all this rhetorical sparring, this period has been something of a lull legislatively. Much of the initial heavy legislative lifting has already been done, with Donalds voting entirely against it.
But everyone should rest up: next up Biden will submit a new social program plan, the American Families Plan, and will submit his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. That budget will feature implementation of the American Jobs Plan and corporate tax hikes to pay for it.
Donalds sits on the House Budget Committee, so this will be a chance for him to shine, as the Republican leadership and his PAC backers intended. No doubt he will have much to say, all of it negative. If past is prologue, he will be shallowly ideological, follow the party line and provide cover against any charges of Republican bias or prejudice. The 19th Congressional District will not play a large role in this.
The problem for Southwest Florida is that Donalds’ rigid right-wing orthodoxy and total rejection of relief, rebuilding and renewal will ensure that the region becomes an underfunded backwater while the rest of the nation moves forward to defeat the pandemic, boost employment and strengthen its infrastructure.
Liberty lives in light
© 2021 by David Silverberg