If the Congressional Black Caucus doesn’t change its name to the Congressional Black Democratic Caucus posthaste, it may be admitting an unpleasant truth the party doesn’t want to acknowledge.
It appears that freshman Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, who is in Congress and black, is being denied entry to the group. He’s a Republican — and would be the only member of the CBC who’s a member of the GOP.
However, according to a Wednesday BuzzFeed News report, Donalds’ office said he’s talked with three members of the CBC regarding membership. However, no action has been taken as of yet and no invitation has been forthcoming.
“He’s not received an answer and the likelihood of that happening a quarter way into the 117th Congress looks bleak,” the outlet reported, also noting that that “a source familiar with the CBC’s plans” confirmed the caucus was blocking Donalds from joining.
“Congressman Donalds has expressed interest in joining the CBC, but has yet to receive an official invitation,” one of Donalds’ aides said. “If given, he’d gladly accept.”
The CBC didn’t comment when asked by BuzzFeed News about Donalds’ potential membership. In a statement to The Hill, however, a spokesperson for the CBC said the group “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.”
“We will work with those who share our values and priorities for the constituents we serve,” they added.
In a February interview with Politico, the 42-year-old Donalds said he wanted membership in both the CBC and the House Freedom Caucus — an interesting duo, but one which would bring new voices to the table in both circumstances.
“Obviously, the dominant voice in the CBC tends to be Democrat or liberal voices, and I want to bring change to that,” he said.
Is Rep. Donalds being frozen out of the Congressional Black Caucus because he’s a Republican?
“Yes, I’m a conservative Republican, but I think in the black community, we have a wide range of political thought,” Donalds added. “It doesn’t always get talked about, but it exists.”
However, a self-described Tea Party Republican might be seen as a fox in the hen house, as far as the CBC is concerned.
There’s an alternate explanation, because of course there is. Donalds voted against certifying the 2020 election results on Jan. 6. And since this is BuzzFeed, this the crux of the explanation writer Kadia Goba chose to go with: “The snub highlights the divide between Democrats and their Republican counterparts since Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol during the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency.”
It might, however, highlight something a bit uglier — something Donalds hinted at with an anecdote during his Politico interview.
Politico’s Melanie Zanona and Sarah Ferris noted that Donalds was “used to people gauging his political identity on his race. Shortly after arriving in Congress, Donalds recalled, a reporter asked if he’d be supporting Nancy Pelosi for speaker, assuming he was a Democrat.”
It doesn’t take a particularly adept satirist to imagine a universe in which the Democratic Party has a representative in every labor and delivery unit in the country, handing out membership cards to black newborns. (No need to hand the cards to white newborns; better off leaving that to the educators.)
There’s an assumption the party should have a monopoly on the black vote — and every other minority’s vote, as well. In fact, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus doesn’t even try to hide it, only allowing Democrats to join; in 2017, they denied then-Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s request for membership.
However, in the CBC and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, GOP members of those groups are generally extended invitations, but whether they join or not is another issue: “Republicans have to consider pricey membership dues and the time commitment, as well the fact that they would be drowned out on policy votes within those groups, time and time again,” Zanona and Ferris noted.
Sen. Tim Scott declined an invitation from the CBC in 2010 before he first entered Congress as a representative.
Former Rep. Mia Love of Utah said the CBC’s members “ignite racism” and that she would “try to take that thing apart from the inside out” during her first run for Congress in 2012, according to Deseret News. When she won in 2014, she joined the CBC. She lost during the 2018 midterms but Burgess Owens, a black man, reclaimed Utah’s 4th Congressional District for the GOP in 2020. He’s decided against joining the CBC.
It’s not difficult to see why. The CBC made it clear in the non-answer answer a spokesperson gave to The Hill regarding the situation with Donalds: “We will work with those who share our values and priorities for the constituents we serve.” Values and priorities, apparently, can be attached to skin color for the CBC, much the way party membership can be attached to ethnicity for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
And it isn’t just the CBC that believes this.
Remember Joe Biden’s pitch to black voters when he appeared on black-centric radio program “The Breakfast Club” last May? “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” When he apologized, you got the impression it was only because he’d accidentally said the quiet part out loud.
With Rep. Byron Donalds, the Congressional Black Caucus seems to be saying the quiet part out loud, too. This time, however, they’re not apologizing.
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