Virus Outbreak Congress

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky talks during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington/Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

That Louisiana’s Republican congressmen won’t acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory — even after the Electoral College voted decisively last week — is more political calculation than “Profiles in Courage.”

Even U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking Republican in Congress, congratulated Biden on his victory the morning after the vote. But Louisiana’s delegation kept silent.

Gov. John Bel Edwards joined on Wednesday saying “it’s well past time” for people to accept Biden’s victory.

“A democracy is best served when the loser acknowledges defeat, gracefully exits and works to make sure there’s a smooth transition," Edwards said.

But the calculus doesn’t support dignity in this case.

“In my studied opinion, it would be an unjust inauguration, the product of a compromised presidential election. A somber day for our republic," U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, said in a statement that undermines the legitimacy of Biden’s election. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, organized a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a challenge that the U.S. Supreme Court denied.

At least as far as sportsmanship and courage go, the profiles of Higgins and Johnson don’t match up well with then Massachusetts Congressman John Quincy Adams daring his Federalist Party to oust him for supporting the Louisiana Purchase. Or Mississippi Sen. Lucius Lamar denying the Southern majority by speaking favorably of slavery abolitionist Charles Sumner’s efforts to bring the North and South together after the Civil War.

To be fair, Higgins and Johnson face a mathematical reality that their historical counterparts did not.

Trump, who has not conceded to Biden, is more popular in Acadiana than Higgins, having received 12,460 more votes than the congressman in the 3rd Congressional District. And the president reached into Johnson’s northwest Louisiana home base and outpolled the congressman by 16,205 votes in the 4th Congressional District.

“That catches (a politician’s) attention,” said Baton Rouge pollster John Couvillon.

In fact, Couvillon’s JMC Analytics calculated that while Trump officially won Louisiana with 58% of the vote, those percentages were far higher in the five Republican congressional districts: 68% in the 3rd and Steve Scalise’s 1st Congressional District; 65% in Garret Graves 6th Congressional District. Both Scalise and Graves have ducked direct questions about who won the presidential race.

In the 5th Congressional District, which covers central and northeast Louisiana along with the Florida Parishes, Trump won 64% of the vote and collected about 60,000 more ballots than GOP contender Lance Harris and eventual winner Luke Letlow attracted — put together.

“The Republican congressmen are representing very pro-Trump districts and those supporters of the president are vociferous in their beliefs” that Trump won, Couvillon added.

Only U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, the Baton Rouge Republican who received 1.2 million votes on Nov. 3, has said Trump failed to present evidence of massive fraud. “I voted for President Trump but Joe Biden won,” Cassidy tweeted on Nov. 23.

Junior senator, John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, on the other hand, chose Trump over McConnell in saying that he continues “to watch the legal and constitutional processes.” But Kennedy is up for reelection in two years.

McConnell is from the establishment part of the party and Trump supporters aren’t, said veteran political strategist Roy Fletcher, of Baton Rouge. “There’s no real upside to running out there and taking the Mitch McConnell approach.”

Fletcher, who has run many a campaign in Louisiana, said he wouldn’t hesitate to bring up that an incumbent congressman abandoned the president during a reelection campaign if polling two years from now indicates a successful gambit. “I can see why somebody would say ‘I don’t want to give someone that opportunity, especially if I only have to wait 15 or 16 days,” he said.

On Jan. 6, Congress will take the Electoral College ballots from the 50 states out of two mahogany boxes, make the count, then officially certify the results. Usually, it’s an hourlong pageant, but the procedure allows for challenges.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, is putting together the paperwork questioning the validity of Electoral College ballots cast in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Wisconsin, which Biden won. He and his allies claim widespread voter fraud though the courts found none.

Still, if Brooks and his allies can find a senator to go along — and McConnell is working to keep that from happening — the end result could be an uncomfortable debate as Republican members would have to publicly oppose Trump or upset the election results.

Fletcher says that Louisiana’s Republican congressmen probably will wait for the fracas to play out.

That way Louisiana’s GOP delegation can safely tell Trump supporters at home, "Well, we did all we could, time to move on," Fletcher said.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.