Jun 5, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Jeffries clashes with Trump VP contender over Jim Crow

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on the left and Rep. Byron Donalds on the right, both wearing blue suits.

Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Byron Donalds. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc; Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) traded barbs on Wednesday over inflammatory comments Donalds made regarding Black families' quality of life during Jim Crow-era racial segregation.

Why it matters: Donalds is seen as a potential running mate for Donald Trump in an election year when both parties are forcefully courting Black voters as polling suggests softening support for Democrats. 

Driving the news: "During Jim Crow, the Black family was together," the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Donalds as saying during a Trump campaign office opening Tuesday in Philadelphia.

  • Donalds continued: "During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively."
  • "And then [the now-defunct Department of Health, Education and Welfare], Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are," he added, referring to welfare policies instituted during the 1960s.
  • Donalds also argued that the Biden administration's welfare policies have continued that dynamic, according to Politico.

What he's saying: Jeffries tore into Donalds' remarks in a brief House floor speech Wednesday.

  • "It has come to my attention that a so-called leader has made the factually inaccurate statement that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow. That's an outlandish, outrageous and out-of-pocket observation," he said.
  • The Democratic leader added: "We were not better off when people could be systematically lynched without consequence. ... How dare you make such an ignorant observation. You better check yourself before you wreck yourself."
  • The Democratic National Committee also called out Donalds, with spokesperson Marcus Robinson saying: "This is Donald Trump's MAGA Republican Party: VP contender Byron Donalds is praising Jim Crow."

The other side: Donalds posted a video to social media saying Democrats are "trying to say I said Black people were doing better under Jim Crow. I never said that. They are lying."

  • "What I said was you had more Black families under Jim Crow, and it was the Democrat policies under H.E.W., under the welfare state, that did help to destroy the Black family," Donalds said.
  • "I also said you're seeing a reinvigoration of Black families today in America, and that is a good thing," he added.

Zoom out: Donalds is viewed as among Trump's potential 2024 running mates.

  • Trump is not expected to announce his VP pick until before the Republican National Convention in July, but he's floated a number of allies for the No. 2 spot.
  • Donalds, like some other Trump VP hopefuls, attended Trump's criminal trial in Manhattan last month to underscore his support to the former president.

Between the lines: Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to reframe America's racial history in a more positive light.

  • Under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Donalds' home state of Florida instituted a new history curriculum last year which posits that slavery had positive aspects for enslaved peoples.
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