Roughly four weeks after endorsing Donald Trump’s bid for president, Louisiana’s two U.S. senators are standing ready to help the presumptive GOP nominee.
Calling Trump “our candidate,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican, said it’s an easy choice.
“I’m for anybody but Hillary,” he said.
Calling Hillary Clinton “a disaster,” GOP Sen. David Vitter of Jefferson Parish agreed and noted that Trump has tapped into something politically tangible among conservative voters.
“Americans are rightly angry. They feel betrayed by Washington,” said Vitter.
The senators agreed to separate interviews recently with LaPolitics.com and discussed the upcoming federal elections, concerns about seniority in the delegation and their key policy efforts on the Hill.
Both are in a transitional stage — Vitter is stepping down after his second six-year term and Cassidy is preparing to become Louisiana’s senior senator as he nears the midpoint of his own first term.
Despite unsourced media reports, Vitter hasn’t made any post-Senate plans yet and is keeping his professional options open.
He’s also taking a hands-off approach to the race to replace him, as is Cassidy. Both said they’ll get behind a conservative runoff candidate should the race become a classic Louisiana Republican-Democrat runoff.
Both likewise said they’ll steer clear of the open U.S. House seats, with one exception from Vitter on the 4th Congressional District.
“I’m close, personally, with (state Rep.) Mike Johnson,” Vitter said. “I’ll be supporting him.”
Cassidy added, “I’m not getting involved in any of those. This is not the year where people want to be told who to vote for from on high.”
With Congressmen Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and John Fleming, R-Minden, gunning for Vitter’s seat, and no guarantee of a win for either, the year may come to a close with Louisiana losing three senior members of its congressional delegation.
Cassidy said clout and time only matter for those chasing gavels — and that another loss of longtime members for Louisiana shouldn’t be a concern.
“Ideas matter more and representing Louisiana values matters next most,” he said.
A champion of term limits, Vitter said he welcomes the turnover.
“I think you gain far more in fresh blood than what you’re losing,” said Vitter. “It doesn’t bother me.”
On the policy front, Cassidy believes he’ll get a floor vote possibly in June for his revenue sharing amendment that’s in the Energy Policy Modernization Act. His amendment would lift the GOMESA revenue sharing cap for Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama from $500 million to $999 million from 2027 to 2031.
“That would be an incredible win for Louisiana,” said Cassidy.
The co-author of the Mental Health Reform Act, Cassidy hosted a mental heal summit in D.C. last week. Among other things, the proposed act would change privacy laws, keep family members better informed and enhance outpatient treatments.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can get something through on that,” Cassidy said.
Vitter, meanwhile, has become a driving force behind the Water Resources Development Act and has been working with Democrats to keep the bill moving. He believes the WRDA instrument could achieve passage by the end of the year.
It has been two years since Congress last passed a WRDA bill and it’s critical for Louisiana’s flood control and hurricane protection plans.
Vitter said he is also “right at the goal line” with a chemical safety bill, another bipartisan effort that has the senior senator negotiating with Democrats. It’s a reform bill aimed at overhauling the government’s regulation of toxic chemicals and the EPA’s rule-making authority.
Vitter said the most current version should start moving soon, with real action getting underway in early June.
Jury trial push died
After years of divided committees and intense political warring, the ongoing regular session will reach its conclusion without any significant discussions on efforts to lower the threshold for demanding a jury trial.
Currently, Louisiana has the highest threshold in the nation, while 36 states don’t have one
Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, had filed legislation to eliminate the state’s $50,000 threshold but backed off the proposal.
“I decided not to run with it,” he said. “The governor was unlikely to support it and I didn’t want to make anyone bleed by trying to move it through committee.”
Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, had a bill to lower the threshold to $20,000 and Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, had a measure to change the definition of the threshold. But they both died on the legislative vine as well.
Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said interest remains for pursuing the issue, but it’ll have to wait for a future session.
“It is remarkable that we’ve spent most of the session fighting a slew of bad bills rather than working with the administration to pass common sense legal reforms,” she said. “Until we get serious about eliminating the jury trial threshold, stopping venue shopping and reining in other blatant abuses in our courts, litigation will be the only industry that’s growing in Louisiana for quite some time.”
They Said It
“You see. If you stick around here too long, you lose your sole.”
—Rep. Julie Stokes, to retiring auto dealer lobbyist Bob Israel, after the bottom of his shoe came off
“I think anyone who has aspirations to take the governor’s job has to have their head examined.”
—Attorney General Jeff Landry, at the Baton Rouge Press Club