June 18, 2021 by David Silverberg
Is Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) a martyr—or a mere minion of the Republican Party and Donald Trump?
That’s the decision the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been facing when considering Donalds’ application to join the 56-member congressional caucus.
Donalds first applied to join the group when he took office in January. Since then his application has been pending, with no word on its fate.
Then on June 9, reporter Kadia Goba of BuzzFeed News reported that Donalds was being blocked from joining the group in the article: “The Congressional Black Caucus Is Blocking A Black Republican From Joining The Group.”
Donalds has been exploiting the snub to charge that the CBC is anti-Republican.
“The Congressional Black Caucus has a stated commitment to ensuring Black Americans have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. As a newly elected Black Member of Congress, my political party should not exempt me from a seat at the table dedicated to achieving this goal,” Donalds told NBC News.
But the CBC answered with a statement of its own: “The Congressional Black Caucus remains committed to fighting for issues that support Black communities, including the police accountability bill, protecting voting rights, and a jobs bill that helps our communities,’ stated an unnamed spokesperson, who did not mention Donalds by name. “We will work with those who share our values and priorities for the constituents we serve.”
So is Donalds a martyr as he claims? Or is this alleged snub just a result of the positions he’s taken and the values he holds?
A CBC primer
An outgrowth of the civil rights movement and the election of Black representatives in the 1960s, the Congressional Black Caucus was founded in 1971 with 13 members, according to its official history.
It was embattled from the beginning. President Richard Nixon refused to meet with the group and so they boycotted his 1971 State of the Union address, generating national headlines. When he relented and met with them in March of that year, they presented him with 61 recommendations to eradicate racism and assist the Black community. Unbeknownst to them, members of the group were on Nixon’s “enemies list.” Following the breaking of the Watergate scandal, CBC members were among the first representatives to call for Nixon’s impeachment in 1974.
Throughout its history the CBC fought for civil rights, voting equity and against apartheid in South Africa. Its members included Barack Obama, then the Democratic senator from Illinois.
“On the challenges of our times…on the threats of our time…members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward,” Obama said at a 2015 CBC dinner. “Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there. I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate… .”
In the current 117th Congress, the CBC has 56 members, all Democrats.
In addition to Donalds, there are two other Black Republicans in Congress: Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4-Utah) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Neither is a member of the CBC.
On its website, the CBC lists a variety of policy priorities for the 117th Congress. Three are very broad: fostering constructive dialogue, informing citizens of the impact of federal policies and mobilizing the next generation of black leadership.
But when it comes to more specific priorities, Donalds has taken directly contrary positions:
- The CBC is fighting to expand voter access. Donalds has vigorously defended voter suppression laws in Georgia and Florida, calling the For the People Act (House Resolution 1) “the radical takeover of our elections.”
- The CBC has championed criminal justice and policing reform. Donalds voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
- The CBC is committed to “investing in and defending the public education system.” Donalds has attacked public education and, along with his wife, has a long history of championing non-public education initiatives. He argued in a tweet during Biden’s State of the Union speech: “You don’t improve the quality of education (or anything) by making it free. You improve quality through competition.”
- The CBC favors the Affordable Care Act, stating it is necessary “to ensure millions of Americans retain access to affordable, quality healthcare, and retaining investments in minority health clinics to combat health disparities.” Donalds has long attacked it, saying during his campaign that: “Obamacare is a thinly veiled attempt at a government takeover of the health insurance delivery system, ultimately leading to a single-payer socialist system.”
The CBC also favors a variety of reforms that are part of President Joe Biden’s plans for jobs, families and recovery from the pandemic. This includes increasing tax rates on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, improving infrastructure and increasing the minimum wage. Donalds has opposed all of these both verbally and with votes.
Additionally, the CBC hailed President Joe Biden’s election after it was informally declared on Nov. 7, 2020. “We show up every election season because to us there is nothing more important than leading this nation to its highest ideals: liberty and justice for all. Today’s victory is a testament to this,” it stated in a press release.
Donalds voted to invalidate that election and has never publicly accepted Biden as president. He continues to pay homage to Trump, most recently by playing golf with Trump and celebrating his 75th birthday on June 14.
Donalds argues that he simply has different ideas and that, as “steel sharpens steel,” his presence in the CBC would make it stronger. As its statement made clear, however, the CBC doesn’t agree.
Sidebar: Love and cash from Mia Love
Donalds is certainly not the first Black Republican to clash with the CBC—and he has been financially supported by one who once vowed to dismantle it.
In 2012 Mia Love, a Black Utah Republican running for Congress, told the Deseret News: “Yes, yes. I would join the Congressional Black Caucus and try to take that thing apart from the inside out.
“It’s demagoguery,” she said. “They sit there and ignite emotions and ignite racism when there isn’t. They use their positions to instill fear. Hope and change is turned into fear and blame. Fear that everybody is going lose everything and blaming Congress for everything instead of taking responsibility.”
Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, had served as mayor of the Utah town of Saratoga Springs. She lost her bid for Congress in 2012, then won in 2014 and represented Utah’s 4th Congressional District.
When she entered Congress, Love softened her rhetoric and joined the CBC, saying that “change must come from the inside out.”
However, although she was a conservative Republican, Love couldn’t bring inside change to the Republican Party under Donald Trump. In 2016 she called on him to withdraw from the race after the Access Hollywood tape was released and refused to support him in the election. Once he was elected, she opposed his steel and aluminum tariffs and criticized his anti-immigration stands.
In the 2018 election, Love lost to Democrat Ben Adams by 694 votes. Trump gloated in a speech: “Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”
She hit back at him and Republicans in a scathing concession speech. “The President’s behavior towards me made me wonder: What did he have to gain by saying such a thing about a fellow Republican? It was not really about asking him to do more, was it? Or was it something else? Well Mr. President, we’ll have to chat about that.”
She also observed: “Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats and bureaucrats in Washington because they do take them home – or at least make them feel like they have a home.”
In 2020, Love’s political action committee, Friends of Mia Love, gave Donalds $5,000 for his primary run and $5,000 for his general election campaign, according to Federal Election Committee records.
Whether Love’s support continues, given Donalds’ fealty to Trump, remains to be seen.
Analysis: Color and convenience
When Donalds ran for Congress in his 85 percent white district he barely mentioned race and emphasized his undying and fanatical Trumpism. He had to get his voters to look past the color of his skin and he did. It was an undeniable accomplishment but perhaps less surprising in a post-Obama era than it would have been before.
Donalds went to Congress as a proudly “politically incorrect” extreme rightwing ideologue, deliberately defying expectations of a Black politician. In Congress he has worked to advance Trumpism, the Republican agenda and hewed closely to the conservative catechism.
So it seems a bit disingenuous, at the very least, for him to suddenly profess outrage at his exclusion from an organization that has race at its core, which is unanimously Democratic and is overwhelmingly liberal. Why should he want to be part of a club that stands for everything he’s been bashing his entire political career?
In fact, it seems as though Donalds’ application to join the CBC was something both sides forgot about until reminded by BuzzFeed.
Donalds is clearly exploiting the CBC’s obvious snub and using it to challenge the legitimacy of the CBC and bash Democrats. He’s made the rounds of right-wing media with his complaint and finally broken into some mainstream national coverage by portraying himself as the injured party.
In the past the CBC hasn’t discriminated against Black Republicans so much as it has shunned members of Congress who opposed its positions—all of whom happened to be Republicans.
In fact, based on their political positions, Donalds has more in common with the so-called “sedition caucus” of members who voted to decertify the election than he does with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And it would be extremely naïve to believe that the CBC would soften his stances on its key priorities or that he could change them from inside. This is not a debate about values; this is Donalds pushing for prominence on behalf of his ideology and serving the Republican Party and leadership.
On one point and one point alone, Donalds has a legitimate complaint: He should not be snubbed. His application should be considered and voted up or down and the reasons for the final vote publicly explained, whether it is approval or rejection.
Of course, if he can’t join that congressional club he could join the club at Mar-a-Lago—if Trump is in a mood to receive him.
Liberty lives in light
© 2021 by David Silverberg