16 questions for Mary Landrieu

Between events in Bossier City, La., Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) sat down with The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker earlier this month for about a half hour to talk about why she thinks she her new position as Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman can help her win reelection this fall in solidly Republican Louisiana; what she thinks of Obamacare; why she could deliver more for Louisiana than her likely opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R); and whether she wants campaign help from the Clintons or the Obamas. A lightly edited transcript of the conversation is below.


In this Oct. 3, 2013, file photo Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaks at a news conference and Capitol Hill in Washington. Landrieu’s quest for a fourth Senate term will turn on whether she can attract just enough support from independents an (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

The Washington Post: What is your argument for a fourth term? Why should the voters of Louisiana keep you there? What is the case you’re trying to make?

Sen. Mary Landrieu: “The voters over 18 years have established great clout in Washington. It doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to them. As chair of the energy committee, they sit at the head of the table with the gavel. As chair of homeland security, the state sits at the head of the table with the gavel. It’s not easy -- you can’t just be awarded those gavels. It comes with time and it comes with persistence. So I think, you know, the state has clout that it should really think carefully about before giving up. It turns into jobs and opportunities and projects and funding that comes to the state.

“I also think my ability to work across party lines is important to people today. People are saying nothing’s working in Washington, but despite all the gridlock and partisanship, I’ve been able my whole career to pass really significant pieces of legislation that have benefited the state. Whether it was the additional $3 billion after Katrina that wasn’t going to come unless I put my shoulder to the wheel and made that happen. Or passing GOMESA, the first-ever revenue sharing from off-shore rigs that people said should’ve happened decades ago but never did, and I helped and led that. More recently, the flood insurance bill, which people said would never happen and [I] put a great coalition together.”

“I think the combination of the state having the clout with the seniority, Energy Committee, homeland security, Appropriations Committee, and with my own individual record of delivering with Republican presidents, Democratic presidents, in tough times, good times, regardless of who’s been governor, been able to really deliver for the state things that matter and turn into jobs and opportunity for the people here.”

Post: “When you talk about your clout on the Energy Committee…”

Landrieu: “Well, it’s not my clout. It’s really the state of Louisiana’s clout.”

Post: “Why do you think that resonates with people here? And what is it about that committee that speaks to people’s economic anxieties and concerns?”

Landrieu: “Louisiana’s traditionally been an energy state, an oil and gas state, and we have other sources of energy but primarily oil and gas. And we’re really proud of the role that we’ve played in developing the technology – both on shore, off shore, shallow, deep-water off shore, conventional, unconventional gas and oil. And the industry itself employs over 300,000 people, so once you put oil and gas and petro-chemical together, it really is the base of our economy, along with agriculture and tourism. And it’s been over 18 years [since] our state has had the chairmanship of this committee. Bennett Johnson, whose seat I took, was the chair. And more significantly, this committee is usually chaired by a westerner. So Bennett was an exception to that rule and I’m an exception to that rule… so it puts not just Louisiana, it puts the Gulf Coast in a leadership position, and the Gulf Coast is America’s energy coast.”

“People have a very deep and basic understanding of how important that industry is and they like that somebody from Louisiana would be in a leadership position to shape those priorities. I’m for the Keystone pipeline, I’m for building more energy infrastructure, I’m for more domestic drilling. I’m going to use that platform to argue that the North American continent should be energy self-sufficient, between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, which has never been really possible before.”

“People understand that in Louisiana, it’s not a hard sell, and I think they’re proud that I’m the chair of that committee, happy that Louisiana has clout on that committee, happy that Louisiana’s helping to shape the energy policy for the nation. And I think being the first woman chair is not lost on some of our folks here as well.”

Post: “You mentioned Keystone. How, if you’re chairman of the committee and you look ahead to the next two years, how do you get anything done there when the president and his administration have not green-lighted the Keystone pipeline? And indeed, there’s a lot of hostility to that in your party.”

Landrieu: “I’m helping to lead the building of the Keystone pipeline, but it’s going to take a lot of Democrats and Republicans at every level from other parts of the state to come together. My goal right now is to get this presented in the Senate, to get it voted on in the Senate. The president could veto it. I mean, it’s his right. I would argue that he shouldn’t.”

Post: “How to convince him to change his mind when he hasn’t changed it already?”

Landrieu: “Well, that’s not my job. I wish I could. And I’m going to do everything I can to try. But, you know, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell has more power than I do and he hasn’t been able to. The Chamber of Commerce has a tremendous amount of power; they’ve not been able to change the president’s mind. The president knows that there’s some Democrats and some Republicans that are really strong for the Keystone pipeline. We’ve presented so much evidence to him, we think. But, you know, he’s got a job to do, I’ve got a job to do and the Senate’s got a job to do and I hope that we can eventually get that pushed through. But it takes time. It’s been five years, I think it should’ve been done three years ago. But we’re going to continue to push. And I’m going to push for additional infrastructure.”

Post: “All around the country, people are fed up with Washington. There’s been this throw-the-bums out attitude that we’ve seen over the last couple of cycles. [Former Democratic Sen.] Blanche Lincoln ran and made a big deal out of being chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee and that didn’t convince voters in Arkansas. Is there something different about Louisiana and the relationship between the people here and the federal government that you think this clout message matters?”

Landrieu: “I am not making the argument that people should send me back just because I’m chair of energy. I think it’s one of the reasons, just because energy…really is the lifeblood of this state. People work in the energy field, they understand it, and from petrochemicals to exploration and production to mid-pipe. But I’m also saying, my record of delivering for this state – Washington is broken, but Mary Landrieu’s  record isn’t. Washington might not work together well, but Mary Landrieu’s been able to deliver, even with the gridlock, important things, a long list of things for the state. So people may be mad at Washington, but I think they look at me and they say, ‘You know, she’s an exception, she’s actually been able to produce major pieces of legislation, even with the gridlock. That’s the kind of person we want.’ I think they look at my record and say, ‘You know, she doesn’t vote with the Democratic Party all the time, she’s got a very independent voting record.’”

“If you list all the senators from literally the most liberal to the most conservative, I’m right in the middle, and I’m a proud centrist. I am. I’m a proud centrist, and the record shows that over time, and it’s been very consistent for 18 years. And people in my state, while they may be strong Democrats or strong Republicans, I think they admire people who will be willing, who are willing to cross party lines and get things done for the state. So I am not just running on 'I’m chair of this committee, get me back.' And it’s not me the chair. Louisiana has built up this clout where Louisiana can be in the forefront of designing an energy policy for the nation. Why would we want to hand that off to Oregon or to Washington state or to New York or to California? Why would we want to do that? Why can’t Louisiana be in the driver’s seat for a change?”

Post: “You talked about your record. If Republicans had their way, voters here would only vote based on one piece of that record, the health care vote, Obamacare. How do you make this campaign about something bigger than those national levels, bigger than the president’s unpopularity and the health care law that you voted for.”

Landrieu: “When I’m in this state, people talk to me about jobs, education, opportunity, housing, highways, energy policy. I know that there are outside forces that want to make the Affordable Care Act the issue, and I’m not saying it’s not an important issue, but I believe that that is a good act that will provide opportunity for quality health care for people that needs to be improved, not repealed. So there’s going to be a lot of outside money coming in here to make that the central issue, but I’ve been the senator long enough to really know what the central issues are here. And when people talk to me, they really talk about jobs and education, they want to see their kids advance and get ahead, they want their kids to go to college, they don’t like the huge debt burdens their kids are facing. Occasionally people will talk about health care to me, but it’s not as central as you might believe from what you hear in Washington.”

Post: “Do you think you’ve done enough to try to fix the law?”

Landrieu: “I’d like to be able to do more, but I’ve offered some really good suggestions. And I also think that the law, as it’s being implemented, our insurance commissioner here, who’s a Republican, allowed along with my urging and with the actions the president did after pushing him, allowed people to keep their policies, so we had 43,000 people who could keep their policies. I’ve continued to urge our governor to expand Medicaid. I’ve called it the 252,000 people in our state who work hard every day, in fact they work hard all week, some of them work 40 or 50 hours a week, have no access to health insurance because they fall into the ‘Jindal Gap.’ Governor Jindal has refused to expand health care opportunities even though the $16 billion that is our money, he’s leaving it in Washington for other people to use instead of using it for our own hospitals and nurses and doctors and healthcare. Every newspaper in the state has editorialized for that position. It might not have passed the legislature, but the business community understands it and individuals that need the care and local doctors and hospitals understand how important that would be.”

“I don’t concede this healthcare issue to the other side. I think the Affordable Care Act is a good step forward. It needs to be improved. I’m working to improve it – expanding Medicaid, lifting the voluntary limit to companies with 100 or less, and other things that I’ve suggested. Allowing individual agents to be able to sell policies and not have that discounted. But at the end of the day, I think most Americans think that if you work, you should be able to afford health insurance and more importantly you should be able to take your health insurance with you wherever you want to work. And if you want to start your own business, you should have affordable healthcare and not be prevented from an entrepreneurial opportunity because your daughter has leukemia or your wife has cancer. I just think there are people in Washington making this issue much bigger or more complicated than it really is.”

Post: “Has the president explained to the people of Louisiana and really what this law is all about and what the benefits are? Do the people have a clear sense of what this law actually provides and doesn’t?”

Landrieu: “I’m not sure that the White House has done the best job on that. But as time goes on, people are really starting to understand and see in their own lives some of the benefits of this law – being able to get insurance when they’re sick, being able to keep insurance when they need it the most, being able to get their kids on their insurance policies, not being able to get turned away. So it’s not the centerpiece of my campaign, but it’s also a law that I think is a step in the right direction, and it needs improvement, not repeal.”

Post: “Are the Clintons going to come help you?”

Landrieu: “I think so and hope so. They’re both very popular in the state. Bill Clinton is a neighbor, that’s the way people think of him here.”

Post: “I think everybody thinks of him as a neighbor.”

Landrieu: “Yes, a chatty neighbor, friendly neighbor. People like him and hopefully he’ll come in and be helpful.”

Post: “And President Obama?”

Landrieu: “I don’t know if the president’s going to come in or not. Michelle Obama was just here, we loved having the first lady here. She was terrific. She was here for Dillard [University]. We were both together at the Dillard commencement. She gave the commencement and I received an honorary degree. And the first lady and I did a roundtable with veterans, with spouses of veterans, mostly women, about the trauma of their husbands coming home. And she’s just been a tremendous advocate for military families.”

“You know, President Obama is popular with certain groups and segments in Louisiana, unpopular in others. So he’ll help me where he can. But in some places his support would not be that helpful. In others, it would be very helpful.”

Post: “Has anything really surprised you so far in this campaign?”

Landrieu: “No.”

Post: “You’re not surprised by the outside money or the early intensity?”

Landrieu: “No, I’m not surprised. It’s more than I’ve ever experienced before, but I was prepared for a very tough campaign and I’m in a very tough campaign. I didn’t’ expect it to be anything less. I’ve had very tough elections. I always do. I prepare for them and I think it makes me a better leader, actually. I learn a lot through them and I think I do a better job at the other end. But I feel a tremendous amount of support in the state right now, contrary to the national this and that. I just feel it on the ground.”

Post: “How do you feel it?”

Landrieu: “I feel it because people come up to me. I can look at data, but I also can feel when I’m out in groups, they may be aggravated at this or they may be aggravated at that, they may not like so and so or so and so, but when they look at my record, I think they think we need to keep her there, she’s really done a good job for our state and she’s delivered time and time again on projects that mean jobs and opportunity for our state. And I don’t like her vote on this, but I do like all these other things. Or I don’t like that, but I like all of this. Louisianans can be kind of practical in their politics. And because I’m one of the few senators that has a centrist record and can prove it – not just say it, but actually prove it – I think that’s what people are looking for. Bridge builders and people that can work across party lines. And I think nothing shows that better than this flood insurance whole effort that I led and helped develop.”

“You know, they called me the ‘Paul Revere of flood insurance.’ Nobody wanted to touch it, nobody thought it was a problem and I kept saying, ‘Yes, this is a terrible problem.’ Sure enough, when these bills came out people literally were hysterical and I don’t blame them. When your insurance goes up from $400 a year to $30,000, that’s something to get upset about. It’s crazy. And then when you have the federal government saying, ‘We’re not going to change it. You all shouldn’t live there. Why do you people live there anyway?’ That was what I got a lot of. So I like explaining to people why we live here and how hard we work here and what a great contribution we make to the economy of the United States.”

“So I think people see in me a fighter that never quits, never gives up, always puts the state first – may not agree with me on every one of my positions, but I think they think, ‘Gee, Louisiana does have this clout, particularly in energy. At the time of the energy renaissance, when for the first time in like 50 years people really believe that there’s a great enough supply for us to become truly energy independent and self-sufficient, why when Louisiana could help be in the lead of writing that energy policy for the nation, why would we walk away from that?’”

Post: “Could [Rep. Bill] Cassidy not be a fighter? Could he not be a bridge builder? Could he not over time get enough clout and respect in the Senate to run the Energy Committee?”

Landrieu: “If he was that kind of person, he would’ve shown it already. He’s been there long enough to show it and he’s given no indication of an ability to do that.”

Post: “Why is that?”

Landrieu: “I don’t think you can point to one major piece of legislation, not one, that he’s passed that’s been a Democratic-Republican major piece of legislation. He’s been there, what, three terms? He’s been there almost six years…. I don’t think he’s really passed a major piece of legislation that I can think of that he really did lead and put together. There are other members of our delegation that have been a lot more powerful within their networks, but he would not be. I think he’s shown very limited ability so far.”

“You could grow into the clout, I guess. I don’t think he could necessarily. But a person more able could potentially, but it would take 18 years. You’re talking about 2032 to get back to where you are today. But, you know, he has his own. That’s how I’m framing this race: This is about Louisiana, it’s not about Washington. It’s about delivering for the state consistently, having a record as a centrist and bipartisan bridge builder and having spent enough time delivering for this state the clout we need to be in the forefront and I have every confidence that that message is resonating, will continue to resonate and I think I’m most certainly going to win. It might not be by this great margin, but I feel very confident… I’ll take one vote plus 50, and I’m not overly confident, but I’m confident in the record, the team that I’ve put together and that the message really is and always has been about Louisiana. It’s not about Washington, it’s not about the president’s record, it’s about my record, it’s not about anybody else but about me and my ability to deliver for the state and what I think the people of Louisiana want to see.”

 

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
Comments
Show Comments

politics

the-fix

Most Read Politics
Next Story
Jaime Fuller · May 27, 2014