Virginia’s first Black House speaker and Biden bond over personal hardships during congratulatory call

President Joe Biden called to congratulate Don Scott, the Portsmouth Democrat who made history last week when he was elected the first Black speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, theGrio reports exclusively.

During the brief chat, Biden extended an invitation to Scott to visit the White House within the next few weeks.

An excited Scott told theGrio that an “energetic” Biden personally extended his well wishes to him after Democrats won back a majority in the Virginia General Assembly. Their critical victory came as a result of them successfully campaigning on abortion rights, an election trend national Democrats hope will lead to more key wins in this year’s general election on Nov. 5, 2024. 

“He just liked the way we ran a tight campaign,” said Scott, recalling the five-minute phone conversation with President Biden on Friday. 

The 58-year-old lawmaker said, “This was a canary in the coal mine and a bellwether for him to let him know that he’ll be fine in this next election.”

On Wednesday, in less than five years as a member of the House of Delegates, Scott ascended to the speakership, becoming the first Black person to preside over the legislative body. The new speaker’s rise in Virginia politics was improbable to some after serving seven years in federal prison for drug conspiracy. He finished his law degree when he completed his sentence.

“I had people who told me that my life was over, that I would never be who I thought I could be,” Scott recalled. 

Del. Don L. Scott Jr., is photographed at the Breit Biniazan law firm in Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Photo by Kristen Zeis/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The former criminal defense attorney said he refused to listen to those who doubted his future after incarceration. Instead, he relied on his faith and hard work to rebuild his life. Scott said of his naysayers: “They didn’t make [me], so they can’t break [me].”

Virginia’s 58th speaker of the House of Delegates hopes his personal story will inspire others, particularly Black Americans touched by the criminal justice system, and show that if he can go from the prison walls to the highest levels of government, then they, too, can find success in life after incarceration.

“This gives hope to anybody who’s ever been in my position. You can overcome anything. You can go anywhere…from the speaker of the House to the White House,” said Scott.

The Democratic leader said he looks forward to sitting with President Biden, whom he said he bonded with over their shared “empathy for service.”

“He was very gracious talking about my story. He knew a lot about me,” recalled Scott, who in return talked about Biden’s empathy after losing his first wife and baby daughter in a deadly car crash in 1972 and later his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

He told theGrio, “That’s what makes him a great leader…he can empathize with folks who’ve gone through things, and he can relate to anybody because he’s faced some of the same challenges that everyday people are facing.”

Scott, who also received a congratulatory call from Vice President Kamala Harris after his election, told theGrio that he and other Democrats in Virginia are ready to help tell the story of what the Biden-Harris administration has done for Black voters during the past three years in the office.

“The president does not get full credit for all of the work that he’s done [and] all of the investments that he’s made,” said Scott. “We have been the beneficiaries of Biden’s policies here in the commonwealth.”

He listed the administration’s major accomplishments, including expanding broadband internet access in rural and urban communities, investing in manufacturing jobs, and combating environmental justice. Scott also noted that the Black unemployment rate was lowest under President Biden. 

Biden and Harris,
U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris arrive for an event about their administration’s approach to artificial intelligence in the East Room of the White House on Oct. 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“They have to speak to the Black community in a way that is animating here in Virginia,” said Scott. “You have to do something different to get people who are already maybe not as engaged in politics but engaged in social and cultural issues and get them out [to vote].”

Ahead of Virginia Democrats’ major victories in the 2023 elections, Scott said they held “regional outreach events” in areas across the commonwealth, including key battleground areas.

He credited legislative wins for Virginia Democrats, such as a 2021 reform to the state’s probation violation laws, to engaging “national well-known folks in the Black culture.” Scott explained, “That’s what you have to do, and I think the president can do that again this time.”

In addition to working to spread the good news about the Biden-Harris administration in Virginia, Scott also has a lengthy list of priorities for the new legislative session, including continuing to “protect a woman’s right to have bodily autonomy,” investing more in quality health care, housing, and education. He also hopes to work with Republicans and Gov. Glenn Youngkin in a divided government to enact bipartisan “common sense” gun reform.  

As he looks ahead to a busy two years as House speaker, Scott relishes his history-making journey for now. 

“It’s the culmination of a faith and a belief that I had in myself as well as others had in me, and it’s all rooted in my faith in God,” Scott told theGrio. “When you get the opportunity to serve, you take advantage of it.”

He added, “It means so much to me and my family to have this opportunity to serve, and I’m grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me with leadership.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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President Joe Biden congratulated Don Scott, the first Black speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, and invited him to the White House. Scott, a former federal inmate, hopes to inspire others and highlighted the administration’s accomplishments in Virginia. Scott also discussed engaging with the Black community and emphasized the need for common-sense gun reform. He looks forward to serving as House speaker and expressed gratitude for the opportunity. Additionally, he plans to focus on protecting women’s rights and prioritize health care, education, and housing. The president has expressed support for Scott and shares empathy with his personal experiences. Scott also stressed the importance of engaging with the Black community and highlighted the need for common-sense gun reform. Overall, Scott’s journey is seen as a culmination of faith, belief, and the opportunity to serve. President Biden’s call to Scott demonstrates the administration’s support and recognition of his historic role in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

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