Two Black U.S. lawmakers have found themselves in the middle of a stalemate between House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and members of his own party in his bid for speaker of the House.
After six rounds of voting Tuesday and Wednesday, McCarthy was still short of the 218 votes needed to lead the House. The debacle had former President Donald Trump phoning in to Congress telling Republicans who voted for U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican from Florida, “they need to knock this off,” according to Rep. Lauren Boebert.
From the other side of the aisle, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, garnered 212 votes, also putting him in the running for the seat in the majority GOP House and ahead of McCathy’s 201 votes.
It was the first time in 100 years that the House speaker nominee could not take the gavel on the first vote. In McCarthy’s case, it was not the second nor third or, by Wednesday night, the sixth. It was also the first time two Black Americans were nominated for the role of speaker, pointed out Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican. The historic moment was met with applause.
“This country needs leadership,” Roy said.
Donalds is a former state lawmaker from Naples, Florida, who started his career as a banker. He is a newcomer in Congress who was first elected in 2020 after Florida Republican Francis Rooney retired. Donalds has introduced legislation that would provide veterans with business and education aid and voted against expanding abortion rights and to protect gun rights.
Like Donalds, all of the GOP members who voted against McCarthy were “objectors,” meaning they voted to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021, the day rioters stormed the Capitol in support of Trump. Yet, the former president, who has been hailed as the most powerful person in the Republican could not stir them in the California congressman’s favor Wednesday.
Donalds is “a young man with a great future!” Trump wrote on his social media platform on Wednesday. “He will have his day, and it will be a big one, but not now!”
Jeffries, from Crown Heights, New York, has served in Congress for five terms and made history in November as the first Black leader of the Democratic party, replacing fellow Democrat former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who held the leadership position in the party for two decades.
Jeffries, 52, has earned a reputation as “the conscience of the Congress,” once condemning Republicans for rejecting a bill that would ban the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds and leading the Congressional Black Caucus into a protest against police brutality.
Boebert, Donalds and the 18 other Republicans blocking McCarthy’s election, who account for some of the most far-right members of Congress, according to reports, believe he has not done enough to earn their votes or made their platforms a priority.
The longtime Republican seeking to become House speaker for the second time reportedly grew frustrated as his nomination continued to be stalled by his colleagues.
Boebert said on the House floor Wednesday that the president needed to call McCarthy and tell him, “you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw.”