Who is Byron Donalds, the Republican nominated for speaker?

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Who is Byron Donalds, the Republican nominated for speaker?

​Rep.-elect Byron Donalds, a sophomore Republican congressman from Florida, emerged Wednesday as the latest spoiler nominee for House speaker by a group of hardline conservatives who have banded together to keep GOP leader Kevin McCarthy from winning the gavel.

Donalds​, who grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Florida to attend college,​ made waves on Tuesday when he switched his vote from McCarthy to Rep.-elect Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) after previously backing the California Republican twice.

Then on Wednesday, Rep.-elect Chip Roy (R-Texas)​, who opposes McCarthy,​ nominated the 44-year-old Donalds for speaker​ on the fourth ballot​, proclaiming him as the kind of outsider who could take on the Washington “swamp.”

“For the first time in history, there have been two black Americans placed into the nomination for speaker of the House,” Roy said, noting that Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York also was nominated for speaker by his party.

Rep. Lauren Boebert nominated Rep. Byron Donalds for House speaker on Wednesday.
Rep. Lauren Boebert nominated Rep. Byron Donalds for House speaker on Wednesday.
Cliff Owen / CNP / SplashNews.co

“There is an important reason for nominating Byron, and that is this country needs a change. This country needs leadership that does not reflect this city, this town that is badly broken,” Roy said.

​Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) nominated Donalds again in the fifth round, while Scott Perry of Pennsylvania did the same on the sixth ballot.

Donalds got 20 votes on all three ballots as the majority of the GOP conference stuck by McCarthy.​

Donalds, who was first elected to the House in 2020, is seen as a rising star in GOP circles, ​describing himself to the Wall Street Journal during his first successful campaign for Congress as a “a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy reacts Wednesday as House members vote on his bid to become speaker.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy reacts Wednesday as House members vote on his bid to become speaker.
Getty Images

“Byron Donalds is a good man raised by a single mom who moved past adversity, became a Christian man at the age of 21 and has devoted his life to advancing the cause for his family and his country and he has done it admirably,” Roy said of his colleague Wednesday.

Donalds was raised in Crown Heights by a single mother, who according to the bio on his congressional website, “dedicated her time [to] instilling in him that greatness requires sacrifice, which drives him as a devoted family man and United States Congressman.​”​

After graduating from Nazareth Regional High School in East Flatbush in 1996, Donalds had the first of two brushes with the law the following year when he was arrested and accused of distribution of marijuana. That charge was dismissed when Donalds agreed to enter a pre-trial diversion program.

Donalds later enrolled at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, but was arrested again and accused of bribery in connection with a scheme to defraud a bank.

“Fifteen years ago, I came in contact with a girl. She offered me $1,000 for my debit card and my PIN number,” Donalds said in a TV interview in 2014. “I never got the thousand dollars, but I had to make restitution to the bank in excess of $7,000.”

The charge was later expunged and Donalds transferred to nearby Florida State University, from where he graduated in 2002 with a degree in finance and marketing.

“I just started going to church and I started really examining my life and my choices,” he told the Journal of his return to the straight and narrow.

After ten years working in the finance and banking industry, Donalds entered politics in 2012 when he ran for the House of Representatives — finishing fifth in a six-person GOP primary field.

He set his sights lower in 2016, winning election to the Florida House of Representatives​ and serving two terms​.

He won the Republican primary to rep Florida’s 19th Congressional District in August 2020, and went on to win the general election that November, taking the seat vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney.

Donalds won re-election Nov. 8 with 68% of the vote. He and his wife Erika live in Naples, Fla. with their three sons, Damon, Darin and Mason.

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