Who is House Speaker candidate Byron Donalds?

Florida Republican says his focus is on ‘securing our border, funding our government responsibly, advancing a conservative vision’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 23 October 2023 17:59 BST
Related video: SNL cold open pokes fun at Jim Jordan over House speaker exit

FloridaRepublican Representative Byron Donalds is one of the nine candidates running for the House speakership after Rep Jim Jordan became the second nominee to fail to get the required backing.

Mr Donalds supported Mr Jordan on all three votes to become speaker following the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy on 3 October.

After Mr Jordan lost the nomination for speaker in an internal ballot among House Republicans on Friday, Mr Donalds announced on X that he was joining the race to become the next nominee, writing that he aims to “become the first African American Speaker, the first Speaker from the great state of Florida, and the next Speaker of the 118th Congress”.

Mr Donalds represents Florida’s 19th congressional district, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral on the southwestern coast.

The 44-year-old is the middle child of three raised by a single mother. Born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Mr Donalds later moved to Naples, in the southern part of the district he now represents, going on to attend Florida State University, graduating in 2002 with a degree in finance and marketing, according to the Naples Daily News.

Before going into politics, Mr Donalds worked in banking, insurance, and finance in Naples. He first ran for Congress in 2012, coming in fifth in a six-way race. In 2016, he won a seat in the Florida state house. Mr Donalds won the 19th congressional district in 2020, eight years after his first attempt.

A member of the House Freedom Caucus, he has said that he’s a “Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment Black man”, the Naples Daily News notes.

With a tough upbringing and hard-right views, Mr Donalds has become a darling of the GOP’s more forceful conservatives. While he has been a strong supporter of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on the state level, he has instead backed former President Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential primary.

Byron Donalds has supported Ron DeSantis as Florida governor but is backing Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination (Getty Images)

Mr Donalds has also clashed with Mr DeSantis and his campaign over education standards following the passing of controversial new guidance on the teaching of African-American history in the Sunshine State.

Mr Donalds has backed most of the new standards, but has said that the “attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong and needs to be adjusted”.

The congressman has made water quality one of his top issues as a legislator, with his first bill in 2021 being the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would allow researchers to keep monitoring for possibly harmful blooms even if the government shuts down.

Last year, he put forward a similar bill, the Protecting Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act, which, like the first, was bipartisan. The bill backs research on airborne algae toxins and simplifies the process for areas affected by harmful blooms to get government aid.

Working with the Army Corps of Engineers to change the way that water that is often polluted is released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, Mr Donalds has said that this would make “sure that Southwest Florida’s interests are recognized in the new release schedule,” according to the Naples Daily News. “We’ve just scored some major wins for our area, which is going to help with water quality.”

During the speaker fight in January, when it took 15 rounds of voting for Rep Kevin McCarthy to become speaker, Mr Donalds was nominated as a possible candidate.

The nomination of Mr Donalds was criticised as tokenism, with Democratic Rep Cori Bush of Missouri saying that he had been used as a “prop”.

“FWIW, @ByronDonalds is not a historic candidate for Speaker. He is 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 said.

“FWIW, nobody asked @CoriBush her opinion on the matter. Before you judge my agenda, let’s have a debate over the policies and the outcomes. Until then, don’t be a crab in a barrel!” Mr Donalds said.

Appearing on MSNBC in January, Mr Donalds pushed back on the idea put forward by host Joy Reid that his nomination had been a “diversity statement”.

“That was not the idea because I was in the room when the decision was made by people who chose to nominate me. That never came up,” he said.

Mr Donalds’ wife Erika slammed Ms Reid, tweeting: "Joy Reid wouldn’t allow my husband speak because he kept making her look foolish! He brought facts and receipts, while all she had were empty Democrat talking points. @ByronDonalds showed her (and everyone) why he would be well qualified for #SOTH [Speaker of the House]!"

But Rep Chip Roy of Texas, who made the nominating speech for Mr Donalds, later told Vanity Fair that “Democrats play the race card every single frickin’ second, so I didn’t mind shoving it down their throats”.

Announcing his candidacy last week, Mr Donalds said that he was focused on “securing our border, funding our government responsibly, advancing a conservative vision for the House of Representatives and the American people, and expanding our Republican majority”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in