All six of Louisiana’s U.S. representatives were reelected last fall, and all of them started new terms last week. But the House itself looks a whole lot different than it did just a month ago.
Let’s just say that where the state’s delegation is concerned, the more things stay the same, the more they change.
Facing the biggest disruption is 1st District U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who switches from a leader in the majority party to the minority. He’ll hold the same technical title as he did in the last Congress — whip for the Republicans — but with the Democrats now firmly in charge, Scalise will no longer be tasked with cobbling together enough votes to actually pass anything.
Not everything will change for the Jefferson Parish Republican, though. Expect him to continue to be Congress’s loudest and least squeamish cheerleader for President Donald Trump, just as he has been until now. The one Republican who outranks him, incoming Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has never been as bombastic a supporter, just as former House Speaker Paul Ryan wasn’t. And with fewer governing demands, Scalise will have even more time to go on Fox News and rally the base.
If Scalise is losing inside stroke, look for 2nd District U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, the delegation’s lone Democrat, to gain it.
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Richmond has moved on from the high-profile position of chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, an organization that chooses a new leader every two years, so he’ll no longer be the group’s spokesperson and a chief critic of Trump’s policies.
But he will assume a behind-the-scenes, potentially influential role as part of the chamber’s returning leadership. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina congressman and longtime Richmond mentor, has brought Richmond into the fold in the newly created position of assistant to the whip. What that means isn’t entirely clear yet, but the post positions Richmond, who is significantly younger than the House's three top Democrats, as a conduit to both the black caucus and to members eager for generational change.
Two other Louisiana congressmen could emerge playing interesting roles.
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Mike Johnson, who represents the Shreveport-based 4th District, has assumed leadership of the Republican Study Committee, a large caucus of conservative Republicans. He also has ties to the smaller but even more conservative House Freedom Caucus. The two groups have split in the past over policy matters, but with the GOP now out of power, chances are they’ll be fighting less among themselves and more against the Democrats.
Johnson is just in his second term, but he’s a smart, affable politician who has emphasized the need to bring civility back to Congress. Can he do that while leading a major opposition group in these divisive times? We’ll see.
And Garret Graves of Baton Rouge, who represents the 6th District, has the chance to remain relevant on the policy front, even from the minority. That’s in large part because Graves’ main focus is infrastructure, an area where there’s a real history of bipartisan agreement, and the potential for more.
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The other two Louisiana representatives, Ralph Abraham and Clay Higgins, should probably lower their expectations, though.
Abraham had been busy working on passing a big farm bill, but that happened in the last Congress; this term, expect him to spend much more of his time on his challenge to Gov. John Bel Edwards in the fall election. Higgins, who first ran as an outsider, had settled into a role as a reliable vote for the GOP leadership, largely under the guidance of Scalise.
In the new congressional order, both will surely remain dutiful votes for GOP priorities, and against Democratic measures. With Republicans still in charge of the Senate and much of the House action expected to focus on investigating the president, it may not get much attention.