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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., receives a gavel from House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jefferies, Dn.Y., after McCarthy was elected speaker of the House Saturday morning at the United States Capitol.

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., receives a gavel from House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jefferies, Dn.Y., after McCarthy was elected speaker of the House Saturday morning at the United States Capitol.

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As an expanded vote for the Speaker of the House paralyzed Congress for several days this week, race and history permeate the debate over who in Congress can best reflect the will of the American electorate. Democrats and Republicans focused on black lawmakers as officials discussed the importance of representation.

In speeches throughout the week, Democrats, who see black voters as crucial to the party’s base, highlighted the historic importance of New York Rep. Hakeem Jefferies was the first black person to lead a congressional caucus.

“We are ready to name a leader who will open the door for the next generation of leaders,” California caucus chairman Pete Aguilar said on the first day of voting. « A Latino Appointing a black person to head this chamber for the first time in our history.”

Across the aisle, Republicans highlighted their own history as the party of President Lincoln and their efforts to increase diversity. Although the caucus struggled to unify behind Representative Kevin McCarthy of California on several ballots and for nearly a week, he was finally elected Speaker of the House early Saturday in the 15th round of voting.

Early in the week, Byron Donalds, a black delegate from Florida in the showdown, emerged as a possible spoilsport candidate.

Donalds was nominated by Texas Republican Chip Roy, who voted for Florida in the first round.

Though Roy began his nomination by noting how “dear friend” and “solid conservative” Donald was, he quickly moved to center stage: “For the first time in history, two black Americans have been nominated Speaker of the House. .

“However, we are to judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he continued, quoting the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, speaks to the media during the House Speaker election in front of the US Capitol on Wednesday.

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Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, speaks to the media during the House Speaker election in front of the US Capitol on Wednesday.

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The idea of ​​authenticity and who best represents the various interests of voters is often a heated political debate.

In the 118th Congress, 70.9% of members identified as White, 12.6% as Black, 10.5% as Latino, 4.1% as Asian American/Pacific Islander, 0.9% as Middle Eastern, according to LegiStorm, a congressional research organization. and 0.9% as American Indian.

“I think what’s interesting in this debate is how Democrats and Republicans have invoked descriptive representation,” said Professor Andra Gillespie, professor of political science and director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for Race and Difference at Emory. university. “When Republicans called for it, the progress they made in descriptive representation is real … more of the descriptive diversity than the other”.

“I think there are questions about the nomination of Congressman Byron Donalds for a second term, given that it was all symbolic,” Gillespie continued. “Donald is not and never will be speaker.”

According to the Pew Research Center, “only one in ten black adults identifies or leans with the Republican Party. And in a Pew Research Center poll in October, only 4% of registered black voters said they would vote for the US House in their district.” would vote for the Republican nominee for the seat, while 69% said they would support the Democratic nominee. »

Amid the House Speakers’ debate this week, Missouri Democrat Corey Bush rejected the idea of ​​Donald as a historic presidential candidate. His appointment “is not progress,” he tweeted. “It’s a helper.”

Bush later explained that he had questioned the seriousness of Roy’s nomination and the support of far-right Republicans.

,[Donalds] This wasn’t someone they’d been promoting for two years. Lol, I don’t think any of us would have been surprised because we’ve seen him in action as a leader.”

But Donald and his Republican supporters insist otherwise.

He replied in a tweet, “Before judging my show, let’s have a discussion about policy and consequences.”

Whatever the motivation behind Donald’s nomination, his candidacy did little more than stall McCarthy’s candidacy. For example, Representative Florida received just 20 votes on the fourth ballot following Roy’s nomination, far short of the support needed to win the presidency.

The Republican Party has long claimed that it is better aligned with the values ​​of black voters. A black Republican lawmaker said the same thing in his House speech.

John James, a Republican-elect from Michigan who was sworn in to nominate Kevin McCarthy on the seventh ballot, began his speech by saying that 1856 was the last time Congress had multiple votes to elect a speaker. meet.

“Today’s issues are about certain rules and personalities,” he told the camera. “Whereas the issues at the time were about slavery and whether a man who looked like me was worth 60% or 100% human.”

James pointed out the historic nature of his presence in the flat.

“Our country has come a long way. That includes families like mine,” he said. “My family moved from slavery to live here since 1856.”

Since Rep. Donald McCarthy was unlikely to be overthrown, Professor Gillespie suggests that James’ nomination was, in part, a strategic decision by the Republican Party.

He added, “He is not someone who has been hostile to promoting the interests of candidates of color.” “I think what the Republicans were hoping for is that John James is a good authority. As another African-American candidate, it would have been more powerful for him to point that out than to ask someone to do it. “

As he continued his speech, James turned to explain how McCarthy helped his party create history that better reflects the mosaic identity of the American public.

“The first time we met we were in his office looking over a Frederick Douglass painting,” he recalls. “He told me in this office, on the eve of the 2019 State of the Union Address, that there was nothing he said or did during that speech that embarrassed him more than the fact that when the Democratic side stands, So it looks more like that.” USA more than us.

James further stated that McCarthy had worked hard to include “more people with diverse perspectives from different lived experiences” in the Republican Party. He explained how McCarthy had helped increase Republican influence in the House, and that he did so by increasing the number of minorities, women, and veterans in its ranks.

In his victory speech on Saturday morning, McCarthy again pointed to Lincoln as an inspiration. He also talked about the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware that hangs in the Capitol.

Noting that there is a diverse group of people on the boat with Washington, including a black figure, McCarthy called on lawmakers to “get everyone on the same boat”.

“If we swim together in the same rhythm, there is no obstacle that this body cannot overcome,” he concluded.

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