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Understanding the rise of people of color in Republican Party ranks

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Byron Donalds of Florida, Michigan's John James, Tony Gonzales from Texas - all House Republicans who featured prominently in the tortured process to elect their speaker and all people of color. Politico calls it the rise of the POC Republican. Brakkton Booker is national political correspondent for Politico, and he joins us now. Thank you for being here, Brakkton.

BRAKKTON BOOKER: Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So you've been looking into this. Is the GOP getting more diverse in Congress? Like, what are the numbers actually looking like?

BOOKER: Well, the short answer is yes. Yes, they are. They have the highest number of Latino elected officials in the GOP caucus. They have the highest number of Black elected officials in the GOP conference. Now when we're looking at the Black elected officials, like, that new high water mark - get ready for it...

RASCOE: OK.

BOOKER: ...Is five.

RASCOE: Five?

BOOKER: Five.

RASCOE: Out of all of the Republicans in the...

BOOKER: We're talking about the Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

RASCOE: So the House and the Senate?

BOOKER: The House and the Senate. That is a high water mark of how many Black Republicans we've had.

RASCOE: We should note that there has been an earlier high water mark for Republican people of color. There were eight Black Republicans in the 44th Congress. That was, of course, in 1875 during Reconstruction. And we know what happened with that - didn't work out.

BOOKER: Well, yes. Yes. If we want to go way back, yes. But if we want to talk about the modern era, yes, we have a new high water mark. And then when we're talking about some Republican operatives - they feel that the 2022 cycle certainly has set a trajectory for the coming election cycles in 2024 and beyond, saying that with these folks who are - they consider to be stars, especially when we're talking about Byron Donalds, who - I've talked to so many Republican operatives. When I'm asking about how does a party move forward to appeal to Black voters, they name Byron Donalds as a star in the making. And I think that's why you saw him during the the long, drawn-out melodrama that was the speaker contest.

RASCOE: So is this a strategy, trying to get more candidates of color, trying to not be seen necessarily as a party of mainly white men?

BOOKER: Look, I think there's a - there is a strategy in place. I don't know how forceful of a strategy it is right now. If you look really closely, like, the party's elevating Black candidates, but when you're looking at their districts, these are not majority Black districts. These are majority white districts for the most part. And so while the parties are nominating Black candidates that can win in these districts, it's not clear that they're making huge inroads with Black voters, especially.

RASCOE: So, I mean, how are Republicans framing this push for diversity? Because am I mistaken in the fact that don't they often speak out against so-called identity politics?

BOOKER: Well, they do. But, you know, when it's convenient to elevate some of the people of color who have made some headway in the party - like a Daniel Cameron, who is the current attorney general in Kentucky, who announced he's going to seek the governor's race.

RASCOE: And he's a Black man.

BOOKER: And he's a Black man. He came to most people's attention by not filing charges against the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in 2020. Now, Republicans will say that, hey, he was following the letter of the law. And so people really lauded Daniel Cameron for standing firm and not bowing to the activist pressure.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, I know that you said obviously some difficulties with Black voters. So is any of this breaking through with any segment of voters of color?

BOOKER: Yes. Yeah. I mean, look, I think you're seeing Asian American voters taking to the Republican Party in larger numbers. I think you're also seeing, obviously, Latino voters, certainly along the border districts, especially Texas and I think in Florida as well, when they're focusing on not just immigration, but when they're focusing on economic issues, bread-and-butter issues, kitchen-table issues where it's focusing on the economy, it's focusing on small business owners, that they are really making some inroads. And you're seeing in some measure that Black men are starting to be open to the idea of voting for Republicans. Again, not in any large numbers, but certainly higher than they have been in previous election cycles.

RASCOE: That's Politico national political correspondent Brakkton Booker. Thank you so much for joining us.

BOOKER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.