MIAMI – As Republicans struggled for a second day to elect a House speaker, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida emerged as the choice of conservative holdouts who are refusing to support Kevin McCarthy’s bid.
During three rounds of balloting Wednesday, Donalds received 20 votes to McCarthy's 201 — enough to keep McCarthy short of the 218 needed to win the speakership in a full House.
On Tuesday, Republicans opposing McCarthy nominated a slew of candidates, including Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and even former Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York. Donalds joined the insurgent Republicans on the final vote Tuesday, switching his vote from McCarthy to Jordan.
So just who is Byron Donalds?
NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP
Donalds, 44, was elected in November to his second term representing Florida's 19th District, in the state's southwest. For his first election in 2020, Donalds won a nine-way GOP primary and defeated his Democratic opponent to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney.
A native of Brooklyn, Donalds was raised by a single mother and graduated from Florida State University in 2002. He was working as a financial adviser when he was appointed to the board of trustees at a state college by then-Gov. Rick Scott, which helped elevate his profile in Florida's GOP circles.
His wife, Erika Donalds, is an advocate of the school choice movement in the state. Byron Donalds has acknowledged being arrested as a young man on a marijuana distribution charge that was later dismissed, and said he turned his life around.
He unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House in 2012, winning a state House seat four years later.
HOUSE SPEAKER VOTES
In December 2021, Donalds told CBS that McCarthy had “done tremendous things” for Republicans in the House. “So right now, the question is, who’s going to be the person that’s going to take us to the next level?" Donalds said. "Kevin’s proven he can do that.”
In the first two rounds of votes on Tuesday, Donalds cast his vote for McCarthy before opting for Jordan in the third round. In doing so, Donalds tweeted that the "reality is … McCarthy doesn’t have the votes.”
“This will take time, Democracy is messy at times, but we will be ready to govern on behalf of the American people,” Donalds added. “Debate is healthy.”
On Wednesday, when his own name was placed in nomination, Donalds cast votes in favor of himself. On Fox after one of those votes, Donalds said he had briefly spoken with McCarthy and called for leadership that “actually reflects where the American people are, and that leadership is something that is earned here in the nation's Capitol, not just given.”
PREVIOUS LEADERSHIP PURSUIT
Donalds has previously sought GOP leadership posts. In November, he unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York for conference chair, the No. 4 position in Republican House leadership, losing a closed-door vote.
VOICES FROM THE FLOOR
Rep. Chip Roy of Texas was the sole member to vote for Donalds for speaker on Tuesday, before subsequently supporting Jordan. In his Wednesday speech nominating Donalds, Roy said the sophomore represented a move toward something different, both for Washington and the Republican Party.
“Here we are, and for the first time in history, there have been two Black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House,” Roy said, referring to Donalds and Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries. “This country needs a change. This country needs leadership that does not reflect this city, this town that is badly broken."
Donalds is currently one of only four Black Republicans in the House.
Cori Bush, a Black Democratic congresswoman from Missouri, called Donalds a “prop.”
“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,” she tweeted.
Nominating Donalds in the fifth round, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said the House's job “is not to coronate the biggest fundraiser, or rubberstamp the status quo or keep on going along to get along. It's to use our votes to elect a speaker who will enable us to get our country back on track.”
Speaking with reporters on the Capitol steps, Donalds on Wednesday called the ongoing debate “an invigorating day for America" but noted that "there’s a lot of members in the chamber who want to have serious conversations about how we can bring this all to a close and elect a speaker.”
“Once we get this organized and figured out, we'll get back to business,” he said. "It’s only Day Two, y’all. Settle down. We’re going to be all right.”
Kinnard reported from Columbia, S.C. Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.