113 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office
April 26, 2021 by David Silverberg
April was a relatively undemanding month for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). At the beginning of the month Congress was closed for an Easter recess and there were no major votes.
But that didn’t mean there weren’t significant revelations to be had, of course—but this time Donalds himself supplied them.
Still, it was a month marked mostly by rhetoric and gestures rather than legislating or voting. He took a trip to the US border for photo ops and he needed to respond to the conviction of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. He maintained his reflexive drumbeat of criticism against President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats in general.
When it came to media availability, Donalds remained within the warm embrace of the right-wing echo chamber. Clearly he and his advisors have decided that the only voters he needs to reach are those who consume only the output of the extreme media. Also, he regards members of the established media as mere “knuckleheads,” to use his own term.
But while he gave no interviews to credible, objective media outlets that might challenge his views and pronouncements, that didn’t mean the interviews he gave couldn’t be revealing.
And one such interview stands out. It occurred on March 30 at the Seed to Table marketplace. It was on a program called Patriot Talk Show produced by independent, conservative journalist Brendon Leslie.
Donalds was relaxed, expansive and frank, talking among friends and with a sympathetic audience listening in. Controversial market owner Alfie Oakes was at the table inserting his comments and observations from time to time. It provided a real window into Donalds’ thinking and perceptions of Congress and provided some interesting background into past events.
Dissing the donors
The Jan. 6 Trump insurrection and Capitol attack continue to reverberate, especially for what has been called the “Sedition Caucus” of Republicans who voted to decertify the election, of which Donalds was one. Political action committees (PACs) attached to major corporations suddenly recoiled in horror at the violence and criminality and chose to express their disapproval by defunding the Republicans who tried to overturn the elections.
“Look,” Donalds explained to Leslie and Oakes, “after January 6th a bunch of the corporations and the federal PACs said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to donate to these Republicans who voted to not certify the Electoral College.’
“So I was asked about it: ‘Byron, what do you think about the PACs drying up?’
“So? Like, I don’t care. The PACs didn’t get me elected. You people did. And I don’t care.”
The PACs didn’t get him elected? Donalds seems to have forgotten that it was PACs who made him a competitive candidate at all. That may come as a surprise to the PACs that not only funded his general election bid but his primary bid as well, such as the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, or the Orthopaedic Surgeons PAC, or the Credit Union National Association PAC, or the National Association of Realtors PAC—and those were only in his primary race. Once he barely eked out a victory over eight other Republicans in the primary the PAC floodgates opened and the money poured in. And let’s not forget the major ideological donors like Club for Growth Action, which made him competitive against much better funded primary candidates like William Figlesthaler and Casey Askar. (A complete list of the PACs that supported Donalds can be seen here.)
Those donors might not demand a specific quid pro quo from the candidate they backed but they might reasonably expect a little respect.
But Donalds said he wasn’t worried about offending the PACs.
“And here’s one thing I know about lobbyists and companies,” he said. “When the Democrats do stupid things and push their stupid policies, they’ll be back. Because [the PACs are] going to be like: ‘Oh my gosh, these people are in charge, they’re crazy, we need help, what’re we going to do?’ They’re going to go see Republicans.”
Maybe they will. Then again, maybe they won’t. They may see Republicans—but they might not donate to them.
Speaking of Casey Askar
It may be long forgotten here in Southwest Florida but the lawsuit between Askar and Donalds continues.
To recap: On Aug. 18, 2020, the day of the Republican congressional primary, a text message went out to Republican voters purportedly from Donalds, saying he was withdrawing from the race. The message was phony. Without presenting any hard evidence, Donalds accused Askar of sending it. Askar denied the accusation
On Nov. 11, Askar sued Donalds for defamation, seeking between $30,000 and $50,000 in damages.
The case has dragged on, with neither a settlement nor conclusion in sight. Askar is asking for a jury trial and his lawyer demanded that Donalds sit for a deposition in person. For his part, Askar’s lawyer objected to nearly every point made by Donald’s lawyer in what is called a “request for admissions,” in which both parties agree on the indisputable facts of the case.
On April 1 Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit held a proceeding to sort out these arguments and it was determined that Donalds would not have to sit for a deposition in person but would answer questions in writing. Askar’s lawyer would also have to answer questions and the answers from both parties were due on April 20th.
We’ll see where this goes from here but one place it isn’t going is away.
Unmasked and under the influence
While Donalds has now made several speeches on the floor of the House, his most prominent speech to date occurred on Feb. 27 when he appeared unmasked with his fellow Republican freshmen in the Crypt of the Capitol. He was there to denounce and oppose the first Democratic stimulus and pandemic relief bill, Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
In that speech he accused Democrats of passing the Plan out of fear of Speaker Pelosi and their need for support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—not because of the deaths of over 500,000 Americans from COVID or the damage to the economy or the loss of paychecks.
In his Seed to Table interview, Donalds revealed that the speech was inspired by—Johnny Walker Black whiskey.
“I was in my office, it was like 11’o clock at night,” he recounted. “And, because at this point legislative business was over, so I was in my office and I had, y’know, Johnny Walker in my office and I was having a glass of Johnny Walker and a press conference was called and my team says, ‘Hey, you want to go to this press conference?’
“And I was like, ‘I don’t want to go.’
“And they were like, ‘Just go.’
“So I said, ‘fine,’ and I went and I forgot the mask, I left it in the desk and everybody’s got a mask on and I’m like, shoot, I don’t have a mask on, everybody’s going to be like, ‘the media’s here’—the Washington Post and the New York Times were like in the corner … so I just said ‘I’m going to leave it’ and it’s stupid because everybody in Congress has had a shot. They’ve either gotten COVID or they’ve gotten the shot, so why are we wearing masks in Congress when everybody else in the building, it’s just stupid.”
Donalds maintained that all congressional offices had doses of the vaccine, most of the staff had been inoculated and although members were required to wear masks on the House floor, it was unnecessary.
This discussion of masks needs to be put in context: Donalds vocally and vociferously opposed masking during the height of the pandemic, doing so during debates over masking mandates by city and county councils. He was being interviewed in front of Alfie Oakes, the virulently anti-mask activist who has called COVID a “hoax” and a “sham,” and he was sitting in a market that defiantly flaunts its opposition to masks and all COVID precautions. Donalds contracted COVID in October 2020 but recovered. On April 19 musician Ted Nugent announced that he had contracted COVID after playing an unmasked performance at Seed to Table seven days earlier before a densely-packed, unmasked audience estimated at 300.
Pelosi put the mask requirement in place on July 29, 2020 “as a sign of respect for the health, safety and well-being of others present in the chamber and surrounding areas.”
Continuing the interview about his speech from the Crypt: “So what happened was that number one, I was kind of tired; number two, Johnny Walker Black—y’all know; and number three, this was like: ‘This is what it is: I don’t have [a mask], it’s stupid, people have been vaccinated, all we’re doing, it’s really like a Potemkin village.’”
Just for laughs: Potemkin on the Potomac
Donalds’ comparison of Washington, DC to a Potemkin village led to the only truly funny—if unintentionally so—part of the interview, his version of history.
As he put it: “If people know what a Potemkin Village is, back from when the Nazis controlled East Germany and when they would let people come in, you would see the first street, past Checkpoint Charlie and everything would look normal and nice and they would say: ‘See, everything looks nice’ and then when you would go four or five or six streets back, that’s when you would see the disaster was there for the world to see if you got that far and what the Democrats like to do is they like to put a lot of Potemkin villages up… .”
People who have read history might spot mistakes. A minor quibble is that there was no East Germany during the Nazi era; that occurred after World War II.
But just for the record, Potemkin villages were named after a person: Grigory Potemkin, a Russian prince, general, diplomat, lover of Tsarina Catherine the Great and possibly her secret husband. In 1787, after Potemkin obtained the Crimea for Russia, Catherine took a grand journey down the Volga River to see it. To make all look well, Potemkin allegedly had portable village facades that looked prosperous and well-kept, constructed along her route so she could see them as she sailed by. These came to be known as “Potemkin villages” or потёмкинские деревни in Russian. A Wikipedia article on the subject can be read here and for further reference an excellent book on Catherine the Great is Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie.
As for where Donalds got his version of “Potemkin villages,” perhaps his source was Johnny Walker.
Dissing the elders
Donalds is scornful of the established Republican leadership, although to be fair, he feels the same about the Democrats.
As he said: “The older members just get caught up in Washington-think and what’s going to happen at the Capitol Hill Club [the Republican Party headquarters] and what’s going on at the Capital Grille [a high-end steak house] or the next dinner or the next event, or what’s the media going to think? Or what company you want to make sure you say the right things, so they don’t get squishy,” he said.
He also sees a new generation of leaders emerging. “You’ve had a lot of members who have been there too long. The new wave of members—and this is where I’m going to be consistent: it’s also bipartisan—you have new Democrats who are coming in, they don’t care about the status quo. And so I think as our politics evolve what you’re going to see is a new crop of leadership on both sides of the aisle. They’re not going to sound professional, they’re not going to say things like people like hearing from them in the past, it’s going to be raw, it’s going to be uncut, it’s going to be somewhat emotional but it’s going to be straight to the point but I think people will respect it.”
Indeed, they might respect it — or they might recoil from it.
Potential patriots or hopeless traitors?
The discussion of the length of service of the congressional leadership led to discussion of term limits and then a philosophical exchange between Oakes and Donalds about non-Trumpers, revealing that Donalds may be softening due to his time in Washington.
“Our politics is really suffering because everybody is in their feelings way too much, they take it way too seriously—and it’s serious, don’t get me wrong—people on both sides have forgotten that you got to have relationships with people on the other side of the aisle because we’re all Americans, we’re in this thing together and it’s important to debate hard, fight hard for what you believe in and I’m all about that,” said Donalds. “But at the same time you got to be able to see the world through their lens because once you can see the world through their lens, then you can help them to see how wrong they really are and you can help them to be conservatives anyway.”
At first Oakes agreed: “I agree 100 percent. We have liberals who work in this company. And I might tell them that they’re misguided but we’ve still got to love and respect them and we’ve got to treat everyone as human beings even if we don’t agree and that’s the only way we we’ll ever have a chance to bring them in.”
Donalds recounted sharing an elevator with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) (AOC) during which she asked him: “Is everything going OK?”
Recalled Donalds: “I say, ‘It’s all good.’ She was cordial. She wasn’t disrespectful. It’s fine. She was like, ‘Fine, let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ And I said, ‘OK, I will but I don’t think there is.’”
But then, having related this warm and human exchange with a leading progressive Democrat, Donalds needed to assure listeners that he hadn’t gone squishy. “But they’re crazy,” he said next. “They’re not even liberalism any more, they’re leftists. What’s pushing their party now does not believe in individual liberties, it doesn’t believe in honest debate and disagreement. They want to silence, they want to control, they want to dictate and, really, they are the true Fascists in our politics. This is what the leftists have become and it’s really a terrible thing.”
That set off Oakes: “As I said before you got here, there’s … it’s not it’s not two parties now, it’s Republicans, it’s you’re either a patriot or a traitor and I know that we said there are other people are Americans but the values they represent are no longer American values. It’s really hard for me to respect them as Americans. They may be American-born, some of them, but it’s very difficult for me to call them Americans.”
So much for loving and respecting everyone! There was some further exchange about whether liberals were hopeless traitors (as Oakes seems to think) or potentially convertible conservatives (as Donalds argued).
One more small revelation came out of this exchange as Oakes denounced Biden and AOC: “…I see what the AOCs are doing, every single policy that I seen come out of the Biden administration is anti-American. Every single one. I’m watching them. They’re letting foreign vegetables come in… .” Of all the crimes of Joe Biden, allowing foreign vegetables enter the country to compete with Oakes Farms seemed a big one on Oakes’ list of grievances.
“I see what you’re trying to do,” he said of Donalds’ calls for converting the heathens, “but I’m also big on calling out the truth and what I see Biden doing and Harris and AOC doing to this country is not very American.”
Donalds made clear that he doesn’t really like Washington, DC.
“…Even under COVID rules, Pelosi doesn’t have us to the Capitol very often,” he observed. “It’s a double-edged sword. Like to me, I like it. I want to be home in my district. I don’t want to be in DC all the time.
“First of all, being in DC kind of sucks. It’s much nicer down here. We’ve got beaches and boats.”
Well, if Donalds would rather be at home than in Washington, DC, that’s a problem that’s easily fixed.
516 days (1 year, 6 months, 13 days) to Election Day.
The complete Donalds interview can be viewed here. Donalds takes the stage at minute 42 in the hour-long video.
Liberty lives in light
© 2021 by David Silverberg