The news of Louisiana Democrat Rep. Cedric Richmond’s impending resignation for a White House gig overshadowed what will become a more consequential and longer-term promotion within the state’s congressional delegation that will amplify the state’s clout in Washington for perhaps decades to come.
Having Richmond serve as a top aide in – assuming this holds true after various legal controversies and ballot recounts – a Democrat former Vice Pres. Joe Biden Administration certainly will give the state inroads into the highest levels of the executive branch. But, realistically, this won’t last long. Biden seems unlikely to serve more than one term – if even that long – and Richmond may not even stick around that long.
As for the other majoritarian branch, last week in Republican House caucus elections Louisiana saw First District GOP Rep. Steve Scalise reelected whip without dissent, in power behind only California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader. McCarthy thus stands in line to become House Speaker in 2023, with the result of the 2022 midterm elections widely expected to erase Democrats’ narrow advantage to make the GOP the majority. Scalise, then, would become the second most powerful House member.
Third in the hierarchy, Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, like the top two also stayed in her post without dissent as chairwoman of the Republican Conference (the party organization in the House). But she has a new vice chairman: Louisiana Fourth District GOP Rep. Mike Johnson, also gaining unanimous election. He will step down from his role as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the long-standing conservative caucus in the House, as is traditional after two years. Scalise also served as RSC chairman for a term.
This makes Louisiana the only state with two representatives among the eight party leaders. Practically speaking, it means over the next few years the state will have outsized influence over the House of Representatives, as Republicans may experience an extended run as the majority party.
These leadership posts reveal not only the popularity that their holders have, as a function of their effectiveness in promoting the party’s agenda, but they also provide the opportunity to build on that to increase these members’ individual power. McCarthy and Scalise are credited with recruitment and campaigning efforts that netted the GOP perhaps as many as a dozen new seats and ushered in at least 40 new Republicans to the chamber, earning the loyalty of many for that.
Unlike the majority leader and whip positions, those of Conference chairman and vice chairman usually last around two terms. This means Johnson becomes the natural successor to Cheney.
And, perhaps, higher. McCarthy, Scalise, and Cheney all are within a year or so in age, with Johnson several years younger. The three top leaders likely will stick around for a few more years and with Scalise or Cheney likely to become the next party chief, but with this promotion Johnson has lined himself up as a leader candidate for some time to come.
His and Scalise’s futures now are inextricably intertwined. Members historically haven’t let leadership become concentrated to a state, so if Scalise gets to the top, Johnson will have to head to the sidelines (although with a huge consolation prize such as a prestigious committee chairmanship). If at this point that top prize eludes Louisiana, it still likely would have the next spot, either with Scalise staying on or otherwise Johnson a strong possibility taking his place.
Regardless, Johnson has put himself now on a very short list of eventual leader/Speaker candidates (although in years to come to siren song of Senate service could change his political future). With his latest ascension, odds are favorable in a decade or so Louisiana will have the thing it never has before, a Speaker of the House.