Racial tensions have spilled into public view amid the battle for House Speaker after Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) called Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican from Florida, a “prop” for the far right.
The controversy began after Donalds, a former businessman and state representative who was first elected to Congress in 2020, was nominated on Wednesday by fellow Republican Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) to serve as Speaker amid Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) fraught effort to win the gavel.
“[For] the first time in history there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for Speaker of the House,” Roy said, referring also to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the Democratic nominee for Speaker.
But the move didn’t sit well with Bush, a progressive Democrat representing St. Louis, who promptly blasted Donalds the following day on Twitter.
“FWIW, @ByronDonalds is not a historic candidate for Speaker. He is a prop,” Bush wrote. “Despite being Black, he supports a policy agenda intent on upholding and perpetuating white supremacy.”
The tweet sparked backlash from the GOP and spurred Donalds, one of two Black Republicans in the House, to tweet his own reply, writing that “nobody asked” Bush for her opinion.
In the process, the back-and-forth put a renewed spotlight on the issue of race inside Congress as the Speaker battle stretches into Friday night.
It’s not the first time Donalds has been at the center of the debate. An outspoken anti-abortion proponent and avid supporter of gun rights, Donalds describes himself on his website as “a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.” The 44-year-old lawmaker, who’s heading into his second term, was denied membership in the Congressional Black Caucus in 2021; he claimed at the time it was because of his conservative views.
Republicans have rushed to Donalds’s side following Bush’s tweet. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) on Thursday said Donalds “ain’t no prop.”
“This is the tired, old, grotesquely racist rhetoric that we’ve seen far too long!” Bishop added.
Still, the feud has underscored the negative perception that many Black Americans have of the GOP.
Roy, in his speech to nominate Donalds, quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying Republicans “do not seek to judge people by the color of their skin but rather the content of their character.”
Yet despite a midterm cycle that saw record-breaking numbers of Black Republican candidates run in the 2022 midterms, including Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Republicans continue to fail at courting support from Black voters.
“[Black voters] are offended that the Republican Party is attempting to impose their version of what a Black leader should be on the Black community,” Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of Black PAC, told The Hill last month.
“It insults the intelligence of Black people when you think that you can just throw any old person up and that Black people will just vote for them because they’re Black,” Shropshire added.
Bush, in an interview with The Hill on Friday, said she has nothing personal against Donalds.
“There are great Black Republicans, and I’m not saying he is not a great person,” Bush said. “But he is part of that MAGA crowd that we don’t need in leadership here in the House of Representatives, that we don’t need leading our country in any way.”
Donalds’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
“The thing is, there is always a racial component,” Bush added. “This country is made up of people who are from different races, different ethnicities, different backgrounds, so it’s going to come into play. We need you to recognize that that’s an actual thing.”
Bush said she doesn’t believe Republicans would have nominated Donalds if Democrats weren’t united behind Jeffries.
“As if we’re ignorant enough to say, ‘Oh, well, we’re gonna have to support him because he’s another Black man,’” said Bush. “We want to see the first Black person but not just because he’s Black. Jeffries led this caucus. People have seen his leadership. Regardless of who takes the seat, we need it to be someone who will prioritize the needs of all people in this country but in a way where they see the disparities, where they see the racism. That can’t happen when you have bad folks leading.”
Donalds, who voted for himself Wednesday, cast his vote twice for McCarthy on Friday.