WASHINGTON — The U.S. House has left the Capitol through Sept. 9 and the U.S. Senate is racing to wrap up its work by the end of the week.
The regularly scheduled August recess is intended to give lawmakers a six-week break to return to their home districts, hear from constituents and spend time with their families.
Offices for U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, both Republicans, said they were still finalizing their schedules for the break. The Senate is expected to remain in session several days this week, wrapping up loose ends and advancing presidential nominations.
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U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Republican who narrowly survived a mass shooting during congressional baseball practice in 2017, has been a key fundraiser for the GOP that's hoping to reclaim control of the chamber in next year's elections. He said he'll continue through the month away from Washington.
"I'll be doing a lot of traveling around the country and doing some events to get the majority back," he said. "And I'll have some time that me and my family can take before the kids go back to school."
Scalise said he doesn't have any in-person town hall meetings scheduled.
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"I do a lot of town halls by telephone — we've actually surveyed constituents and by far they prefer when we come to them, as opposed to having them come to us," he said. "We get a lot more people. We get thousands of people on these calls."
In-person town halls have been on the decline in recent years as members have faced raucous crowds on both the right and left. Cassidy faced hundreds of protesters at a town hall in Metairie in 2017.
Citing data from Legistorm, Politico reported last year that town hall meetings during the August recess were down by 70 percent from the previous year. The Town Hall Project, an effort that crowd sources information to track town halls, has noticed a rebound in them this year, though.
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Benton lawmaker who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, has held multiple in-person town halls in recent weeks, even before recess began. His spokeswoman, Ainsley Holyfield, said he has more planned in the coming weeks, along with other outreach efforts in his northwest-Louisiana based 4th District.
“Dates of these meetings will be posted on social media,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who has been tapped to co-chair former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, is expected to spend at least part of the recess on that effort as Democrats continue to jockey for the nomination to face Trump in 2020. Richmond has no public events scheduled in his district at the moment.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, is campaigning for governor. He has spent the past several weeks making public appearances throughout the state and attending fundraising events.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Garret Graves said the Baton Rouge Republican will be "hitting it hard in August, using the time to connect in-person with constituents across the district via our usual open-to-the-public Office Hours, Grubs with Garret, and one-on-one and small group meetings at our Baton Rouge, Livingston and Thibodaux offices."
"He’ll also be making the public rounds, speaking in nearly a dozen parishes at chambers of congress, the (Baton Rouge) press club, and better business bureau luncheons, and other civic group meetings, throughout the month," spokesman Kevin Roig said.
One of Graves' upcoming town hall meetings will be held in conjunction with the Restore Louisiana flood recovery program to provide updates on assistance.
Graves has also set out on an innovative "day in the life" program where he will work alongside constituents doing their jobs.
"He’s bagged groceries at Rouses, delivered packages with UPS, worked the window at Canes, and picked up garbage onboard the truck in the past," Roig said.
His appearance will be promoted on his Facebook page and website.
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, will be traveling to Israel to visit religious sites and meet with Israeli leaders to discuss security concerns. Higgins is a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Committee.
Higgins’ spokesman, Andrew David, said Higgins has meetings and site visits scheduled in all 10 parishes in his district, which covers the southwest corner of the state.
“We are planning town halls, including both telephone town hall and in-person town hall events,” David said. “We will share details for those events in advance.”
Louisiana lawmakers will return to the state with a mixed-bag of results in the first seven months of the newly divided Congress, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats in control of the House. All members from Louisiana are Republicans except Richmond, a Democrat.
Several members of the delegation have expressed frustration over partisan roadblocks as House Democrats increasingly push toward impeaching President Donald Trump.
Scalise said he expects GOP members will be bringing back a message of frustration to their constituents.
"It's very clear that (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi's agenda has moved far to the left to appease the radical socialists in her caucus — that's left behind a lot of opportunities to work together to solve real problems," he said.
Pelosi, D-California, is leading a delegation to Ghana and U.S. Army Africa headquarters this week. No one from the Louisiana delegation is on the trip.
She has defended the House's passage of several Democratic priorities, including the passage of a $15 an hour minimum wage proposal that critics say is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled Senate.
During a news conference Thursday as House members were preparing to leave town, Pelosi vowed her caucus would spend the next six weeks working to "accelerate a drumbeat across the nation" in support of the party's agenda.
"We will own August for the people," she said. "We will own August and make it too hot to handle for the Senate not to take up our bills."
Note: This story has been updated to provide details of Rep. Garret Graves' plans for the August break.