U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, last week once again showed that he’s becoming the wild man of the House.
Landry got into a bitter exchange of words with the head of the U.S. Interior Department’s drilling division, Michael Bromwich. Bromwich fired off a letter to Landry, asking him to consider apologizing to department employees that Landry referred to as like “the CIA and Gestapo.”
Landry’s words cut deep because he insulted a director who is Jewish. But if Bromwich, who accused Landry of defamation and slander of the employees, expected contrition from Landry, he picked the wrong man.
This was the same Jeff Landry who, a week earlier, brazenly attended President Barack Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress with a printed sign that read: “Drilling-Jobs.” Landry was photographed by The Associated Press and the picture was sent nationwide.
And this is the same Landry who publicly snubbed Obama when the president called Congress members to The White House earlier this year to talk about the debt and deficit problem. Landry called it a waste of time.
Such antics would typically get a member of Congress in trouble, but not Landry. The freshman with the backing of tea party activists has plenty of cover to shoot from behind the rock.
He is protected by a constituency that contains staunchly conservative Republicans like himself, who are not only not embarrassed by their representative’s actions but cheer him.
“For some of his constituents, they would say, ‘Go Jeff,’ ” said G. Pearson Cross, head of the political science department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “A significant proportion of the voters in his district believe that the Obama administration has taken the nation over the cliff.”
Landry also has wisely found an issue to hammer home in a district that depends on the drilling industry. If one isn’t employed in the drilling industry, a family member or friend is, said Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
“It plays out very well in terms of marketing yourself as a good representative looking out for the interests of constituents who see it as a menacing government,” said Stockley, who used to teach in Landry’s district at Nicholls State University.
Landry also has political cover. He has become almost untouchable as one of the 87 Republican freshmen mostly elected with tea party backing. Their bloc of votes have proved critical to the House leadership.
The force of that bloc was hammered home last week when Landry joined 48 other Republicans in voting against legislation that would prevent the government from shutting down at the end of the month.
Landry, who later in the week voted for the measure, initially said the resolution didn’t contain enough spending cuts. Their vote sank the first measure, embarrassing leadership.
Landry’s actions may be entertaining, but they threaten to wreck his credibility, said Thomas Mann, a longtime congressional analyst with the centrist Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
“The down side is that those of his colleagues who are thoughtful and take seriously their role as members of Congress will dismiss
him as a radical who is not worth engaging in the legislative process,” Mann said. “From what I can tell from a distance, that response will be welcomed by Rep. Landry.”
Landry has no problem engaging with the administration.
“We have co-equal branches here,” he said. “The Founding Fathers thought that it was very important that the executive branch is not treated like some monarchy,” Landry said.
Landry sees his moves as necessary in representing the constituents who sent him to Congress.
“I’m going to employ any tactic I can think of to get someone’s attention,” Landry said.
Gerard Shields is chief of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is GerardShields@theadvocate.com.