WASHINGTON — Louisiana voters decided against changing the state’s congressional delegation but the rest of the country had different ideas, overturning a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and giving control of the speakership to Democrats for the first time since 2010.
The state’s six incumbent congressmen all coasted to re-election Tuesday, but when they return to Capitol Hill they’ll find a new landscape to navigate.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from the New Orleans area, once had his eyes on the speaker’s gavel. With current GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, retiring at the end of the year, Scalise spent the last six months jockeying with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, for the inside track to replace him.
WASHINGTON — Voters in all six of Louisiana’s congressional districts re-elected their incumbent congressmen, sending the state’s five Republi…
But Tuesday’s election means Scalise no longer has a Republican majority to whip, much less one to make him speaker. Scalise told colleagues in an email Wednesday he’d be running for minority whip, putting to bed rumors he might directly challenge McCarthy for the minority leader job.
In the email, obtained by The Advocate, Scalise said election results were “a tremendous disappointment” but added he sees an opportunity to highlight the GOP's "proven conservative principles."
"We have to do a better job of letting people know what we stand for, and how our ideas are better to improve the lives of hard-working families," Scalise wrote in asking fellow Republicans for support.
For members of Congress who are expected to return to Washington next year — a category that includes all six of Louisiana’s House members — t…
Just what that ends up meaning for Scalise’s political future remains unclear.
“There are fewer options,” said Bob Livingston, a fellow Louisiana Republican who previously held Scalise’s seat.
The minority whip job amounts to a step up the party ranks — it’d make him the House’s No. 2 Republican — but a significant step down in terms of political power and influence.
The House, where a simple majority rules and the speaker holds almost complete control of the agenda, allots little power to minority members and gives them very limited ability to shape legislation or steer hearings.
Scalise’s position as majority whip has put him right in the middle of controlling the agenda in the House, said former longtime U.S. Sen. John Breaux, a Democrat from Crowley who now works as a lobbyist in Washington.
“All of a sudden, come January, all of that will instantly change for him,” said Breaux, who also spent 14 years in the House. “I cannot overemphasize the change from being in the majority to the minority. If you’re in the minority, you’re in the minority, and you don’t control the legislation in any way, shape or form.”
Scalise, a 53-year-old former Louisiana state lawmaker, has been considered a rising star of the Republican Party. He’s a close ally of President Donald Trump and is well-regarded among the GOP’s right wing.
The smaller Republican minority in the House appears much more conservative and much more loyal to Trump. Democratic gains in swing districts and well-to-do suburbs knocked of many of the more moderate Republican members — like South Florida’s Carlos Curbelo. A wave of others are retiring.
That potentially bodes well for Scalise’s position among House Republicans. McCarthy, though tight with Trump, isn’t as popular with the party’s right wing, which came out of Tuesday’s election largely unscathed and now make up a large share of the remaining Republicans in the House.
Although Scalise isn’t running against McCarthy, the California Republican faces at least one opponent in his bid for leadership. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a founder of the conservative Freedom Caucus, announced Tuesday morning he’s also running for minority leader.
Jordan is considered a longshot to win but a number of analysts have seen his candidacy as a sign of conservative discontent with McCarthy — which helped scuttle McCarthy’s failed 2015 bid for the speakership — and could still force a reshuffling of the leadership ranks, potentially offering an opening for Scalise to broker a compromise.
There have also been rumors among some Louisiana Republicans that Scalise could leave Washington to challenge current Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, in 2019. Scalise has repeatedly denied any interest in running for governor — telling reporters “no way” at one public event — but some of his fans hope that answer might change now that his prospects in Congress have dimmed for the moment.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise is facing a tough election battle next week.
Breaux said he hasn’t spoken with Scalise since the election but doubted he’d leave the House — especially when he’d be well-positioned to engineer a Republican resurgence in a future election.
“I think he’d want to stay and try to lead his troops back into the majority in two years,” Breaux said. “I think obviously that’s going to be one of his big goals.”
Louisiana’s lone Democrat in the House, New Orleans Rep. Cedric Richmond, stands to gain significantly from his party’s takeover — and might become the state’s most influential congressman in a Democratic House as he begins his fifth term in office.
There’s no obvious next landing spot for Richmond, the outgoing chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. CBC chairs serve a single two-year term.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana's lone congressional Democrat, appears well-positioned to retain his 2nd Congressional District seat and …
Richmond has positioned the CBC to play a big role in Democratic leadership elections — currently set for December — and has loudly advocated for more black members in top posts.
In a letter to colleagues just before the election, Richmond indicated he’d want a Black Caucus member to hold at least one of the House’s top two spots — either speaker or majority leader — if there’s any shakeup of the top posts.
Just how that’ll play out remains to be seen. All three top House Democrats — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina — announced they’re running for the top three spots in the new Congress.
A spokesperson for Richmond didn’t respond to an interview request Wednesday.
It’s unclear if Richmond — who will hand off the CBC chairmanship in January — will secure a major promotion. Richmond is a close ally of Clyburn, who’s running for whip, and is unlikely to challenge the longtime congressman and current highest-ranking black member.
But there have been rumblings among some Democrats about their party’s aging House leadership — Pelosi and Clyburn are both 78 and Hoyer is 79 — and the 45-year-old Richmond is seen by many as a potentially influential member of the next generation of younger congressional Democrats.