Thursday, February 2, 2023
    HomePoliticsLouisiana delegation played critical role in House fight | Local Politics

    Louisiana delegation played critical role in House fight | Local Politics

    WASHINGTON — Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise was quietly mentioned as a candidate for the speaker of the House during the weeklong Republican fight for the chamber’s top job.

    That talk lasted until Friday, when intense negotiations, in which members of Louisiana’s GOP delegation helped, finally began bearing fruit.

    GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California, was elected speaker on the 15th vote held early Saturday morning — the fifth day of balloting — after C-Span showed one Republican lunging in anger toward another.

    Usually choosing a speaker, the top leader in the U.S. House, is completed in a single vote. Republicans had hoped to avoid public chaos as its first act in charge of the 118th Congress and some became nervous as vote after vote failed during the week.

    Along with congress members speaking privately, Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, Salon and other national media outlets raised Scalise’s name Thursday as an alternative.

    Rep. Ken Buck, of Colorado, told CNN that Scalise was a possible compromise candidate.

    But others cast doubt on Scalise. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, from the Colorado Rockies community of Rifle, told MSNBC: “We need a change in leadership, and so that isn’t a name that I’m entertaining,”

    Scalise said in an interview earlier this week that he was aware of the movement to draft him but did nothing to encourage it.

    Members knew Scalise supported McCarthy. Scalise worked to keep Republicans from nominating him or even mentioning his name. At the same time, Louisiana’s GOP House delegation worked publicly on McCarthy’s behalf.

    “Obviously, myself and Mike Johnson in elected leadership roles” worked to secure McCarthy’s election, Scalise said, adding that Baton Rouge Rep. Garret Graves was involved in some negotiations, as was Lafayette Rep. Clay Higgins.

    “We all were about a real debate in changing the way Washington works,” Scalise said.

    Over the past 20 years, House leadership overcame partisan dysfunction by handling the most important bills, leaving the rank and file with very little to do.

    Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, held the top spot in the 117th Congress. She “wouldn’t let Democratic committee chairmen even amend their own legislation,” Scalise said. “We want to make sure they (congresspeople) went back to work.”

    Unlike the Senate, which assumes the rules of the previous body, the House approves new rules every two years when new representatives take office.

    Members of the far-right Freedom Caucus denied McCarthy support to wrest concessions from leadership on the operational procedures the House would follow for the next two years.

    Negotiations were protracted and heated.

    “Part of my job is to get everybody rowing in the same direction,” said Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson, of Benton. As deputy chair of the House Republican Conference, Johnson is in charge of coordinating messaging for the GOP majority. During most of the 15 votes, he was seated near McCarthy.

    Johnson resigned from the Freedom Caucus upon joining GOP House leadership. But his politics remain simpatico with the hardline conservative group, and he remains friends with its leading lights.

    “They trust me,” Johnson said. “I was trying to keep cohesion in the ranks.”

    Johnson and Rep. Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who once led the Freedom Caucus and whose name was entered as a McCarthy alternative, visited Israel with their wives in 2020. In between meetings with business leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the couples visited Biblically important archaeological sites.

    Jordan was instrumental in lowering the temperature during the speaker fight so that bargaining could proceed without shouting. He also worked to win over Freedom Caucus members, calming fears that they would be punished for voting “no” on McCarthy’s speakership, according to Politico, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

    Graves, a friend of McCarthy’s and part of the speakership team, was instrumental, Johnson said.

    Graves was seen all over the chamber, buttonholing members and trying to persuade holdouts. He did not respond to multiple requests to discuss his role in the negotiations.

    Higgins was trying to be a peacemaker, Johnson said.

    Higgins sat in the chamber, praying and reading from his Bible. From time to time, he would converse with insurgents.

    With the crisis over, McCarthy as speaker and Scalise as majority leader, Republican House members voted in unison Monday night to approve the new rules.

    “That was my piece of legislation,” Scalise said Tuesday, “to formalize all the negotiations we have been having for weeks especially during last week to change the way that Washington works.”



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