Newspaper article Roll Call

In Richmond's Defense of Scalise, a History of Camaraderie

Newspaper article Roll Call

In Richmond's Defense of Scalise, a History of Camaraderie

Article excerpt

Democrat Cedric L. Richmond's defense of Steve Scalise after revelations the Republican majority whip spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002 raised eyebrows in Washington -- especially among other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But the two Louisiana congressmen -- one a black progressive, the other a white conservative -- have a relationship that goes back 14 years, to their early days as friendly adversaries in the state Legislature.

"In between Scalise and Richmond there's kind of a yin and a yang," fellow Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, a Republican, told CQ Roll Call recently.

Long before December's revelations about Scalise, the two lawmakers served together for nearly eight years in the Louisiana statehouse.

The Democrat from New Orleans and the Republican from the city's suburbs didn't agree on raising the minimum wage or revisiting the number of days a suspect can remain incarcerated before formal charges are made.

Still, over time, a friendship developed.

"We would fight during the day in the Legislature and then in the evening we would go play basketball and we would have drinks together," Richmond recalled last summer in an interview with the Baton-Rouge Advocate.

Publicly, tensions could look ugly. In 2007, Richmond was peeved that Scalise hadn't given him a heads up before going to the media to announce plans to explore impeachment proceedings against a local elected official.

"Maybe it's because he's running for Congress," Richmond said of Scalise at the time.

Scalise was elected to Congress in 2008, and Richmond followed two years later, crashing what was poised to be an all-GOP Louisiana House delegation: Democrat Charlie Melancon vacated his House seat in an unsuccessful bid to usurp Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in 2010, while Richmond managed to win his challenge of incumbent moderate Republican Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao."

After their years in Baton Rouge, Richmond and Scalise picked up where they left off, recalling the mutual respect and personal fondness they cultivated back in Louisiana outside of the requisite partisan bickering.

At the 2011 State of the Union address immediately following the near-fatal shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., Scalise and Richmond chose one another as bipartisan seating companions.

On the precipice of Richmond's first Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game -- a yearly tradition he would come to dominate -- the former college athlete said he was eager to take on his old friend, a high school wrestler.

"We have neighboring districts, and we served in the Legislature together, so we're pretty competitive," Richmond said. "I can't wait to get a chance to pitch against Steve." (In a subsequent baseball game, Scalise got the better of Richmond, to his sheer delight.)

The two men soon discovered working together on Capitol Hill was, in some ways, easier than opposing each other in Baton Rouge. …

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