LANDRIEU, Mary L.

Congressional Pictorial Directory, 109th Congress
1955–

Biography

Hailing from a political family with deep roots in the state of Louisiana, Mary Landrieu began building her political career in Baton Rouge.1 After serving in the Louisiana legislature and state treasury, she became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana in 1996.2 Landrieu came to Washington as a self-styled centrist Southern Democrat representing a state with a growing Republican electorate. During the Barack Obama administration, several controversial votes eroded her support among many in her home state. Despite these difficult circumstances, Landrieu was able to forge significant victories for Louisiana on energy policy and disaster relief during her tenure in Congress.

Mary Landrieu was born in Arlington, Virginia, on November 23, 1955, the oldest of nine children raised by Moon Landrieu, former Mayor of New Orleans, and Verna Landrieu. After graduating from Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, Mary Landrieu earned a degree in sociology from Louisiana State University in 1977. At age 24, she won election to the Louisiana house of representatives, becoming the youngest woman to serve in the state legislature. After eight years in the state house, Landrieu became Louisiana state treasurer, a position she held from 1988 to 1996. In 1988 she married Frank Snelling, and the couple adopted two children.3

After an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1995, Landrieu seized the opportunity to pursue a Louisiana Senate seat when J. Bennett Johnston announced his retirement in 1996. Running against GOP candidate Woody Jenkins in a presidential election year, Landrieu embraced much of the Clinton administration’s agenda: welfare reform, a balanced budget, pro-death penalty, and pro-choice. When no candidate won the 50 percent required by Louisiana election law, the top-vote getters in the open primary, Landrieu and Jenkins, faced each other in a run-off.4 Landrieu prevailed by a narrow margin: 50.17 percent of the vote or about 5,800 votes out of 1.7 million cast.5 In 2002, Landrieu also failed to get a majority in the November general election, claiming only 46 percent of the vote against nine candidates. Once again, she won in a December run-off, this time with 51.7 percent of the vote.6

In the Senate, Landrieu joined with other “New Democrats” to support what she called the “sensible center.”7 This principled approach was a product of her political pragmatism. As a Democrat from a Southern state, Landrieu tried to maintain a delicate balance between constituent concerns in Louisiana and those of her fellow Democrats in the Senate.

When she entered the 105th Congress (1997–1999) in January 1997, Senator Landrieu received assignments on three committees: Small Business; Energy and Natural Resources; and Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. She resigned the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry seat in the 106th Congress (1999–2001) for a post on Armed Services, becoming the first Democratic woman to serve on this committee, where she remained until 2002. In 2001, she was named to the influential Appropriations Committee.

Landrieu was willing to work with Republicans to accomplish her legislative goals, a strategy that reflected the unique politics of her state. One of her first bipartisan efforts was contributing an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, which funneled federal education funding to poor school districts.8 In 2002, Landrieu supported the George W. Bush administration’s initiatives 84 percent of the time, including voting for the Iraq war resolution. She backed President Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut, and joined Republicans in their quest to permanently end the estate tax. She also promoted the exploration for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.9

Landrieu became the senior Senator from Louisiana in 2004, after John Breaux decided not to seek re-election. In 2005, she was thrust into the national spotlight after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Landrieu called for significant federal investment in rebuilding the city and the region, and criticized the response by President Bush and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). She went so far as to threaten “to punch” anyone who criticized local emergency service providers, including President Bush.10

Landrieu attempted to amend bills originating in the Senate with aid provisions and used her position on several influential subcommittees to harness resources for the region’s recovery.11 In 2007, Landrieu was assigned to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which controlled the funding for FEMA. This position allowed her to pursue funding for Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She chaired the subcommittee during the 112th and 113th Congresses, holding hearings on the impact of other natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012.12 After joining the Homeland Security Committee ( in 2007, Landrieu chaired the ad hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery until 2011, using this position to conduct hearings on the appropriation of funds and the implementation of recovery programs.13 She called for “common-sense oversight” to reduce the regulatory obstacles impeding reconstruction.14 In April 2006, Landrieu threatened to block every presidential nomination until Bush agreed to provide $6 billion in federal funds to fix the Louisiana levees.15

Landrieu used her position on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to promote the interests of the oil and gas industry, always connecting her efforts in the Senate to the long-term interests of her state. She called for an increase in domestic oil production and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), and cautioned that restrictions on output encouraged companies to move production abroad.16 In 2006, she joined with New Mexico’s Republican Senator Pete V. Domenici to pass the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which opened more than 8 million acres to offshore drilling. A key provision of this legislation mandated revenue sharing with Louisiana and the other oil and gas producing states on the Gulf of Mexico.17

By the 110th Congress (2007–2009) Landrieu had solidified her centrist credentials by playing an important role in the “Gang of 14,” a bipartisan group of Senators with the goal of circumventing the Democratic resistance to judicial nominations during the Bush administration.18 In January 2007, Landrieu and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe founded the “Common Ground Coalition,” a cross-party alliance to influence legislation.19

In 2008, Landrieu was comfortably re-elected, despite a well-funded Republican campaign to defeat her. A promising start to her third term included the passage of an amendment providing more resources for the foster care system.20 This was an important issue for Landrieu, who was co-chairwoman of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption.21

The Obama administration’s ambitious agenda forced Landrieu to make two controversial votes at the beginning of her third term. She supported Obama’s economic stimulus package and cast the last-minute, deciding vote in favor of Obama’s health care reform bill in the Senate.22 She was heavily criticized by Republicans and many Louisiana voters, and found it increasingly difficult to maintain her centrist positions.23

Landrieu’s third term was defined by issues related to energy policy, especially the impact of federal regulations on the Louisiana oil and gas industry. She opposed a 2009 comprehensive energy bill because she considered a renewable energy mandate burdensome for southern states.24 She dismissed cap and trade legislation and environmental regulations such as EPA-imposed emission restrictions as ineffective and potentially harmful to local employment.25

In April 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico created another economic and environmental disaster for Louisiana. Landrieu hoped to avoid the delays in funding and construction that had slowed the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. When President Obama instituted a moratorium on offshore drilling, Landrieu searched for alternatives, warning that a drilling ban could hurt small businesses in the region and increase costly oil and gas imports.26 She protested the moratorium by using her Senate privilege to place a hold on President Obama’s nominee for budget director—a tactic she threatened to use on multiple occasions in the Senate.27 In 2012, she facilitated the passage of the "Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States" (RESTORE) Act, which funneled the majority of the fine money paid by BP directly to Louisiana and other Gulf states for recovery efforts.28

Facing a difficult re-election campaign against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy in 2014, Landrieu went to great lengths to demonstrate her independence from the Obama administration. She acknowledged the problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and supported the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, using this as a symbol of her commitment to the economy of the Gulf Coast region and her home state.29 She also touted her record in the Senate and seniority on Senate committees—including her promotion to chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2014. Nevertheless, Cassidy successfully associated Landrieu with her initial vote for the health care bill in 2009 and Democratic opposition to the proposed pipeline.30 In Louisiana’s open primary in November, Landrieu won 42 percent of the vote to Cassidy’s 41 percent.31 On December 6, 2014, Landrieu’s Senate career ended as it began: with a run-off election. This time, she could only muster 36.7 percent of the vote to Cassidy’s 46.6 percent, losing by more than 150,000 votes.32

After Congress, Landrieu began working as a policy adviser focusing on energy issues.33 She also serves on the board of an association helping abused children navigate the legal system and social services.34

Footnotes

1Thomas Fields-Meyer, Macon Morehouse, and Gabrielle Cosgriff, “Born to Run: Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana Keeps Politics a Family Affair,” 20 August 2001, People: 93.

2“Louisiana Republican Drops Election Challenge,” 18 November 1996, Washington Post.

3Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 430.

4Almanac of American Politics, 1998 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Inc., 1997): 626–627.

5“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.

6Ibid.

7Politics in America, 2004: 430.

8Ibid., 431.

9Ibid., 430.

10William Neikirk, “Big Easy’s Tough Advocate,” 16 September 2005, Chicago Tribune.

11Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 428.

12Hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security of the Committee on Appropriations, Hurricane Sandy: Response and Recovery, Progress and Challenges, 112th Cong., 2nd sess. (2012).

13“Hearing Explores Flaws in Aiding Storm Victims,” 3 December 2009, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans).

14Christopher Cooper, “In Katrina’s Wake: Where is the Money?,” 27 January 2007, Wall Street Journal.

15Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Washington, D.C.: National Journal Inc., 2013): 726.

16Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, D.C.: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 421.

17Coral Davenport, “New Offshore View for Coastal States,” 8 September 2008, CQ Weekly.

18Politics in America, 2010: 435.

19John Hill, “Landrieu Bridges Party Gap,” 14 January 2007, The News-Star (Monroe, La.).

20“Landrieu Amendment Opens Door for Reforming Foster Care-Financing System,” 13 April 2009, The Louisiana Weekly: 22.

21Politics in America, 2014: 422.

22Christopher Tidmore, “Obama Health Care Solution Helps Landrieu’s Re-election,” 18 November 2013, The Louisiana Weekly: 3.

23Deborah Barfield Berry, “Republicans Attack Landrieu for Health Care Vote,” 24 November 2009, The Times (Shreveport, La.); Christopher Tidmore, “An Analysis: Sen. Landrieu’s Snowe Job,” 19 October 2009, The Louisiana Weekly.

24Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 725.

25Ibid.

26Bobbie J. Clark, “Five Questions with Senator Mary Landrieu,” 21 August 2010, The Times (Shreveport, La.); Field Hearing before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, The Deepwater Drilling Moratorium: An Economic Disaster for Louisiana’s Small Businesses, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (2010).

27“Landrieu Blocks Obama Nominee in Protest of Drilling Moratorium,” 24 September 2010, Wall Street Journal; Aaron Blake, “Landrieu, Vitter Threaten to Block Potential Fugate Nomination,” 29 July 2013, Washington Post.

28The RESTORE Act was passed as part of the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” Pub. L. 112-141. Deborah Barfield Berry, “RESTORE Act Closer to Becoming Law,” 22 April 2012, Pensacola News Journal; Campbell Robertson, “Gulf Coast States at Odds on Penalties for Oil Spill,” 17 November 2012, New York Times.

29Maeve Reston, “Louisiana Senator Adopts Risky Strategy,” 27 December 2013, Los Angeles Times; Steven Mufson, “Landrieu Counting her Friends,” 11 October 2014, Washington Post.

30Molly Ball, “The Last Southern Democrat,” 4 December 2014, The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/12/mary-landrieu-louisiana-senate-runoff-the-last-southern-democrat/383412/ (accessed 1 March 2016).

31Valerie Bauerlein, “Mary Landrieu Battles Shifting Tide,” 4 December 2014, Wall Street Journal.

32“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.

33Deborah Barfield Berry, “Life after the Senate: What’s Mary Landrieu Doing?,” 14 August 2015, USA Today.

34Diana Samuels, “Mary Landrieu to Serve on CASA Board, Group that Helps Abused Children,” 20 November 2015, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Louisiana State University
Special Collections

Baton Rouge, LA
Papers: Senatorial Papers.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Mary Landrieu," in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006.

Landrieu, Mary L. Nine and Counting: The Women of the Senate. New York: Perennial, 2001.

U.S. Congress. Tributes Delivered in Congress: Mary L. Landrieu, United States Senator, 1997-2015. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015.

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