The drama surrounding Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid remains nothing short of surreal.
It took 15 bids to secure the votes required to become speaker of the House. In his fatalistic desire to become speaker, McCarthy made numerous concessions to opponents who have all but promised to nullify any real power or influence he will have. An interesting side story was the effort by far-right House members to support Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, one of the few Black Republicans in the chamber.
Following McCarthy’s failure to earn a majority of votes for a third time, Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas nominated Donalds for speaker. Fellow far right-wing extremist Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado eventually threw her support behind Donalds before eventually voting “present,” allowing McCarthy to finally win the speakership.
Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who chairs the far-right Freedom Caucus, provided the most condescending and shameful nomination speech for Donalds, who was recently elected to a second term in Congress.
Overcome with a misguided degree of giddiness, Perry informed his House colleagues that Donalds, a fervent President Trump and MAGA supporter, would be the first Black speaker, and tried to paint Republicans as the party of diversity.
“Now, as my colleagues probably know, the first Black members of Congress to serve in this body were Republicans,” he said, noting that abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a Republican.
Republicans love stating that many Black people were Republicans through much of the 19th century, and for a sizable portion of the 20th. That largely resulted from the party’s alignment with the Union during the Civil War. Throughout much of the 20th century, Republicans were seen as the more progressive of the two major political parties. It remains quite a spectacle to witness conservative commentators like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and others note Republicans supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
While true, what they fail to mention is it was the same year far-right activists took over the party from their more moderate colleagues. Many Dixiecrat segregationists, such as Sen. Storm Thurmond of South Carolina, became so enraged at the passage of this monumental piece of legislation they switched from Democrats to Republicans, joining forces with the Birchers and other right-wing political groups. Later years would see the party engage in Southern strategy tactics, racially coded rhetoric and similar sinister shenanigans.
Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri made it clear she didn’t agree that Donalds was a historic candidate for speaker.
“He is a prop,” Bush wrote on Twitter. “Despite being Black, he supports a policy agenda intent on upholding and perpetuating white supremacy. His name being in the mix is not progress—it’s pathetic.”
For a party that claims discussions about racism are anti-American, Republicans love to promote Black politicians when it is beneficial to their agenda.
Watching and observing House members during those dramatic proceedings, one could definitely notice the racial and gender diversity that personified the Democratic members of the House. Meanwhile, the Republican side of the House represented the racial demographics of your typical Alabama country club.
Thankfully, it doesn’t seem many people have been falsely persuaded by devious, bigoted, opportunistic Republicans who have the unmitigated gall to discuss Black history from a disingenuous and distorted perspective. We know the reality, past as well as present.
In the words of the classic civil rights anthem, “we shall not be moved.”
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies. He is also an author and public speaker.