Rep. Donalds Spars With CNN Anchor: ‘As a Black Man … I’m Allowed to Have My Own Thoughts’

Editor’s note: Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., made the following remarks Thursday during an interview with Brianna Keilar, host of CNN’s “New Day,” in an interview about the Congressional Black Caucus’ refusal to allow him to join. Read the lightly edited transcript, below, or watch the video above.

Brianna Keilar: All right, so you heard that statement from the [Congressional Black Caucus] and what’s implicit, but pretty clear here, is that in that statement, they’re basically saying they don’t think you share their values and priorities for the constituents they serve. I wonder what your reaction is to that?

Donalds: My reaction is pretty simple. First, I heard about this report yesterday when BuzzFeed, I think, is the one that broke the article. We’ve not really heard much from the CBC since they asked me when I came in as a new member in the 117th whether I would join or not. It’s important for your viewers to understand that when I served in Florida’s Legislature, I was a part of the Legislative Black Caucus for four years. I’ve actually been to a couple of the CBC conferences in Washington, D.C.

I’m a poor kid from Brooklyn, New York. I’m 42 years old, I’ve been able to be successful in my life. So, whether it’s talking about jobs or, yes, even voting rights, or anything that the CBC wants to talk about, I have a perspective being a 42-year-old black man who’s come up in America after a lot of the battles, through the civil rights movement, that I think actually will be helpful and a helpful perspective to the CBC.

Whether they want to take advantage of that is really up to them, but it’s something that I’ve actually expressed interest in joining. I think having a wider range of discussions from all sides of the political framework is important, not just for black America, but all America.

Keilar: You have questioned the election, the veracity of the election. The 2020 election was verifiably secure, but this questioning of the election, which many Republicans have done, is the basis, really, for all of the bills that we have seen across so many states that, if passed, will effectively reduce voting access of black Americans. Do you think that that is something that might be incongruent with the mission of the CBC?

Donalds: Well, first of all, what’s going on or whatever was going on with the 2020 election, that has nothing to do with this at all. Number two, I would say if you actually look at the bills that have been passed in Florida, Georgia, actually, black Americans and all Americans, whether you live in those states, have more access to the ballot, not less. Those are the facts, because I’ve read both bills.

And number three, again, I’ll say it like I said before, I’m 42 years old, I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, I come from a single-parent household. I know what it is to actually have to grow up coming out of the inner city in today’s America because I’ve done it.

I think those perspectives are helpful. Whether the CBC wants to take advantage of that is up to them, but I’m here to tell you and your viewers, and frankly, the entire country, but I’m willing to be a part of that conversation. Because it is important as we navigate our country forward, that we have people who have all kinds of political perspectives, not just one.

Keilar: You say that actually, this will increase access for voters of color, for African Americans. That’s just not true. There have been analysis, multiple done, including by the Houston Chronicle, looking at the bill specifically in Texas. Including by The Washington Post, looking at these bills, writ large. They’re not going to increase access for voters of color. They’re going to decrease access.

Furthermore, you have defended President Trump. You’ve said he’s done enough when it comes to rebuffing ideas about white supremacy. But I do want to listen to some of his prominent comments on the subject of race to get your perspective:

Former President Donald Trump: I think there’s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either. Who would you like me to condemn? Proud Boys. Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by. When people proudly had their Confederate flags, they’re not talking about racism. They love their flag. It represents the South. What do you prefer? Blacks for Trump or African Americans for Trump? George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Look at my African American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest? Do you know what I’m talking about? Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a b— off the field right now‘?

Do you think that your defense of a person that said things like that might be incongruent with the mission of the CBC?

Donalds: First of all, whatever the president said in the past, has nothing to do with this discussion at all. I think what’s important to understand that–

Keilar: Well you’ve defended him.

Donalds: Please don’t cut me off. I have not cut you off in this interview. Please do not do that to me. Thank you. As a black man in America, I’m allowed to have my own thoughts on who I choose to support, and who I choose not to support. I think that it’s important, whether you’re talking about the Congressional Black Caucus or the Florida State Legislative Black Caucus or the National Caucus of State Black Legislators—organizations I have been a part of in the past—my support of President Trump has been consistent. But at the same time, I’ve had the ability to advocate for issues, ideas, proposals, and funding that have helped the black community in my state.

You’re talking to somebody who my first three years in college was at Florida A&M, a [historically black college and university]. So whether my support for President Trump, whether it’s for or against, is irrelevant. That has nothing to do with this discussion.

This is whether the ideology of somebody who is conservative is welcomed in the Congressional Black Caucus. It’s really that simple. To bring up President Trump, and try to make this about him, does not matter. It’s irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the situation at hand. The question is whether or not the CBC would let me join.

Keilar: Well I ask you because, [former Republican Rep.] Mia Love, for instance—there have been Republicans who have been members of the CBC. There have been people with, when it comes to traditional Republican, fiscal conservative views and a lot of traditional Republican views, they have been allowed in the CBC. I will certainly grant you there have not been that many of them. There have also been a number of African American Republicans who have said no, they don’t want to be in the CBC when they’ve been invited. There have been Republicans in the CBC.

I think that’s why I’m asking you about this because it does appear to be relevant. I hear you saying that Trump is a thing of the past. Facts would differ with that assessment. He is very much the present of the Republican Party and based on what so many members of the Republican Party have said, and including some of your positions, when it comes to this idea of perpetuating the illegitimacy of elections that were legitimate, he appears to be very much part of the Republican future.

Can you address that? Because that does seem to be at the root of the issue that the CBC seems to have with you, which is of concern to you because you do have perspectives that you would like to bring to the CBC.

Donalds: That’s not really a question for me to ask, this for the members of the CBC to address. It’s their organization, it’s their caucus. If that’s a problem for them, they should come on CNN and address that with you.

All I’m saying is, is that I have expressed interest in joining. I’ve been very consistent in that. Friends of mine who are Democrats from the Florida Legislature have asked me if I would join, I’ve told them, “Yes, but I’m waiting to hear from the CBC.”

If that’s their position, they should state that, as opposed to just saying, “No comment.” Understand, I’m not trying to challenge them or make this an issue. Like I said, my office didn’t ask for this article to be written. It was written by reporters and it came out, and now I’m here with you today. But if my positions and my support of President Trump is a problem for them, let them state that on the record.

As far as I’m concerned, I do have policy ideas. I have a business background. I’m here in politics today. I want to contribute. I think my ideas, whether it’s voting or access to education or growing the economy, would help black America as well as all America. And I want to be a part of that conversation. If they choose not to hear my voice, I can’t help that.

Keilar: In their statement, they seem to make it clear it’s an issue of values, right? You’re talking about policies, they’re talking about values. I hear you saying maybe you want the CBC to be more clear about what the issue is. I think it’s pretty clear what the issue is. Why can’t we discuss that?

Donalds: If that’s what it is, then I would say we’re members of Congress, let’s sit down and have a meeting and discussion. I have no problem going into the CBC meeting and having this robust discussion as members of Congress. That’s something I always do. My door’s always open to have any conversation, no matter how easy or how hard and difficult.

If that’s their position, I would prefer to hear it directly. The thing that I find to be a little off-putting is it drops in some article that they have no comment, but this is their concerns. Let’s have that conversation. We can do it in the Speaker’s Lobby. We could do it on the House floor. We can do it in anybody’s office. They can come to my congressional office, or we can do it in any meeting room in Washington, D.C., at any time. I’m here, I’m open to talk, I’m willing to talk.

I have different perspectives when it comes to public policy, but I think when it comes to “values”, the values that I espouse is making sure that all Americans have the ability to thrive and prosper, and that black Americans have an opportunity to do that as well. That’s where I am and that’s what I stand on.

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