Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) is adhering to a tried, though perhaps not true, strategy to weather the storm he’s facing after a video of him kissing a married staffer emerged — bunker down and hope it passes.
His chief of staff, Adam Terry, told The Hill on Wednesday night that McAllister had spent most of the week back in the district with his wife, focusing on mending his family, after the video went public in a local news report on Monday.
The video significantly damaged his political standing and caused a number of his former opponents in last year’s special House election, where he won his seat, to float potential rematches. And it prompted Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, to try to get in touch with the congressman Tuesday night, and through much of Wednesday, to ask for his resignation.
Villere couldn’t reach McAllister, Terry confirmed to The Hill, and McAllister has no plans to tender his resignation anyway. Instead, he’ll spend the next two weeks “taking some time to be with his wife,” and he will arrive back at the Capitol for votes when recess ends.
“He’s got a job to do, one he was elected to do, and he plans to continue to do that,” Terry said.
McAllister’s strategy, to stay out of the limelight until the frenzy calms, is one often used by disgraced politicians, with varying degrees of success. Most of those who went on to re-emerge as political players just years after facing a damaging sex scandal willingly stepped aside, and most didn’t have such clear and irrefutable evidence of their indiscretions as McAllister’s video.
It’s unclear what the next steps will be for McAllister. Members of the Louisiana delegation said they had not spoken to him or heard from him, and because the situation is so fluid — it’s still unclear exactly how deep the relationship with the staffer went — they were reluctant to suggest a potential outcome to the situation.
“All I can say at this point is, this is a very serious matter based on the information that we’ve gotten from the media. … It needs to be looked into,” said Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyFormer lawmakers call on leadership to focus on unity Partial disengagement based on democratic characteristics: A new era of US-China economic relations Lobbying world MORE Jr. (R-La.), who supported McAllister’s runoff opponent, state Sen. Neil Riser (R).
“The consequences are likely to be serious, but I don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” he added.
Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingLobbying world Trump wants Congress to delay Census deadlines amid pandemic Meadows sets up coronavirus hotline for members of Congress MORE (R-La.), also a Riser supporter, echoed Boustany, saying it’s too early to know how the situation will shake out.
Indeed, neither House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) nor House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) have attempted to get in touch with McAllister, as the situation remains fluid, and it’s unclear exactly what kind of conversation they’ll have to have with him.
Both Fleming and Boustany stopped just short of calling for his resignation, though.
“I don’t think it’s for me to decide,” Fleming said. “It’s a decision he has to make, a decision his family has to make, a decision his contributors, his voters, his supporters in general, they have to show him where they stand. And I think a lot has to do with whether there’s been any other issues, how he deals with the issues that he has, all the things that come together.”
Part of the difficulty Republicans face in addressing the situation is the fact that politicians’ personal indiscretions and private missteps have become almost an entrenched part of Louisiana’s political culture.
Laying the hammer on McAllister might look like a prudent political move from Louisiana politicians this week, but more like an act of hypocrisy in 2015, when the party is expected to embrace Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE (R-La.), who was implicated in a prostitution scandal in 2007, as its gubernatorial nominee.
Approached when leaving the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Vitter declined to comment on McAllister’s situation, saying only that he doesn’t do impromptu interviews in the hall and directing a reporter to his office.
His silence on the issue was characteristic for Louisiana Republicans this week, many of whom said they’re withholding comments until the dust settles, concerned at getting out ahead of a still-developing situation.
Many potential Republican challengers to McAllister refused to outline their political plans. Riser told The Times-Picayune on Tuesday that “right now, it’s too early to be talking about [the race],” but he didn’t rule out a second go at the seat, and he said he has been receiving a barrage of calls trying to recruit him to run.
Others, however, like state Rep. Elbert Guillory, a prominent conservative leader in the state who is currently running for lieutenant governor, weren’t so coy. Guillory told The Hill that, while he’d fully support Riser in the race, if Riser opts out, “I’d consider it.”
Democrats, however, were eager to pounce on McAllister, seeing the situation as a potential opening for the party. State Rep. Robert Johnson, who came in fifth in the jungle primary for the seat last year, told The Times-Picayune that McAllister is “another embarrassment to Louisiana” and called for his resignation.
Johnson said he is “certainly very interested” in the race.
If McAllister decides to run for reelection and faces a challenge from both his right and left flanks, two candidates splitting the GOP vote could theoretically hand a win to a Democrat.
Despite his best efforts, however, McAllister’s issues aren’t likely to disappear soon.
Edwin Edwards, a former Democratic governor and current candidate for Louisiana’s 6th District, knows a lot about scandal after spending eight years in prison for racketeering charges to cap off a colorful political career, said the most damaging part of McAllister’s might be the fact that there’s a video.
Speaking from his own experience, Edwards said, “If there’s a rumor you may or may not deny it, but if there’s a picture you can’t deny it.”
“It’s something that can be seen now, and it transcends rumors,” he said.
McAllister was only caught on video exchanging a kiss. But Edwards said it’s less the substance of the relationship that matters and more what it means for the lawmaker, who ran his campaign as a Christian family-values candidate.
Edwards drew a contrast between himself — with a much thicker portfolio of controversies — and McAllister in terms of their public persona.
“One of the things that has served me well throughout my career is, I tell it like it is. People know where I stand, and I do my job,” Edwards said.
He added: “Too many people who run for public office do so on promoting family values and being family men, and they turn out to be something else — and it leaves a question mark in the minds of voters.”