U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu wants her ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate’s energy committee to showcase her seniority and ability to champion Louisiana issues in Washington as she tries to persuade voters to keep her in office.
Her leadership of the committee could end up undermining her clout argument, however, as the Democratic senator rallies for positions at odds with the Obama administration and the Senate’s Democratic leadership, and seems unable to gain traction on high-profile disputes.
The chairmanship has given her closest Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a point with which to needle Landrieu on the campaign trail in advance of the Nov. 4 election.
Landrieu’s strength in election battles has been her ability to highlight victories for Louisiana. She celebrated her seniority in a speech to hundreds of local elected officials gathered last weekend at the Louisiana Municipal Association convention.
“I do have clout in the United States Senate, 18 years. The way you get it is to stay there. You can’t buy it. It’s not given to you. You have to earn it,” Landrieu said.
After the speech, she said of the clout factor: “With it, I’m able to do some significant things.”
The three-term senator from New Orleans can point to providing billions of dollars in hurricane recovery money for the state. She can celebrate the 2006 law she sponsored that will allow Louisiana to get revenue generated from oil and gas drilling off the Gulf of Mexico coast.
Also, she can claim recent victory on working out a flood insurance fix to keep thousands of homeowners from facing skyrocketing premiums — though Cassidy can share credit for that one, too.
But while Landrieu can use her leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to emphasize her pro-oil and gas agenda, that won’t necessarily end roadblocks to increased energy production efforts or lessen regulatory hurdles.
For example, Landrieu’s support of the Keystone XL oil pipeline hasn’t forced a Senate vote on advancing the long-delayed project. Proposed liquefied natural gas export terminals for Louisiana still await regulatory approvals. Meanwhile, Landrieu’s criticism of President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon dioxide pollution hasn’t altered the proposal despite outcries that it could cost Louisiana tens of thousands of jobs.
Even if Landrieu’s on the right side of energy issues for Louisiana voters, she’s running into repeated complaints that she’s aligned with the wrong party to get those things done.
The national conservative organization Americans for Prosperity has run a TV ad attacking Landrieu’s message that her clout is invaluable to Louisiana, and Cassidy struck the same tone of criticism in his speech last weekend to the municipal association.
The Republican congressman from Baton Rouge said a vote for him would flip leadership of Senate to the GOP and advance positions important to Louisiana.
Landrieu said her seniority and chairmanship draw attention to the energy debates and give her leverage to help her energy-rich home state.
Cassidy hammers the same response each time he’s asked about Landrieu’s clout. He said Landrieu’s chairmanship won’t help to advance Keystone work or to logjam the EPA regulations because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, won’t allow it.
“You can say you’re opposed to the EPA regulations, but if you’re going to vote for Harry Reid to be majority leader, there’s going to be no blocking of this regulation, period,” Cassidy said after a Baton Rouge hearing slamming the proposed ozone standards.
Landrieu said the claim that her clout doesn’t matter is a “weak argument. There’s not a lot of evidence that supports it.”
As an example, she said she successfully pushed the federal law that will let Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states get more money from offshore oil and gas drilling without Reid’s initial support.
“I can’t get everything done that everybody would like. But no one can. And I’ve gotten an awful lot done,” Landrieu said.
A problem for Landrieu during campaign season, though, is whether the energy chairmanship draws attention to the areas where she can’t get things done.
If she can’t show the job delivers, it might undercut the argument that her seniority is indispensable.
Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press.