by Anitra D. Brown
Describing it as both “a great day for Louisiana” and “one of the hardest decisions” he has had to make, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) announced Tuesday (Nov. 17) morning that he will resign from Congress to serve as an executive-level advisor in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. Richmond says he will resign sometime before Jan. 20, 2021, adding that the offices of the state’s second congressional district, which includes much of Orleans Parish, along with portions of Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Jefferson, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and West Baton Rouge parishes, as well as all of St. James Parish, will remain open and staffed to serve constituents until someone is elected to fill his unexpired term.
Speaking to media and a small crowd of supporters, that included New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, gathered in the terminal of the Lakefront Airport in New Orleans East, Richmond said he sees the move to the White House as an opportunity to better serve the people of Louisiana.
“There is no formula on earth that I would leave my seat in Congress after obtaining seniority, after becoming assistant to the Whip, after chairing the Congressional Black Caucus and being the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, if I did not think this new role would serve Louisiana better than my past role,” Richmond said. “This new role will allow me to offer advice to the President when he wants it, maybe sometimes when he doesn’t want it.”
On Nov. 3, Rep. Richmond easily won re-election for the congressional seat that he has held since 2011. But as an early and strong supporter of President-Elect Biden who served as co-chair of the Biden campaign, it has long been speculated that Richmond would be on a shortlist of individuals expected to assume roles in the White House if the former vice-president won.
Richmond says he came to his decision after talking with family, friends, mentors, and to President-elect Biden, who he says was “clear in his ask, clear in what we can do together and in what this country (needs) at this moment in time.”
In his role as Assistant to the President and Director of Public Engagement, Richmond will serve as a senior advisor to the President.
When asked, Rep. Richmond also spoke to President-elect Biden’s commitment to Lift Every Voice, the agenda Biden unveiled during his campaign to address disparities and inequities that Black Americans face.
“The Lift Every Voice plan is actually a very robust African-American agenda,” said U.S. Rep. Richmond. “It starts with investing in education, making sure that our kids who are three and four years old are not in daycare, but they are in a real school learning. Then it goes on to economic empowerment in terms of $150 billion for Black entrepreneurship. Then we talk about the over $70 billion we would invest in HBCUs. Then we get to criminal justice and police reform. But the most important thing is that it is an empowerment plan to shore and uplift every community. Part of the plan is very specific to African-American communities because the harm that has been done is very specific to African-American communities. It is a plan I am proud of. We talked about it during the campaign. Another pledge that he made was that his Cabinet was going to be one of the most diverse in the history of this country. And when you look at his pick for vice-president, it was a historic pick. It broke several glass ceilings, and I fully expect him to govern like that.”
Though he will be serving as a senior advisor to the president, Richmond said he sees his new role as an opportunity to continue to advocate for Louisiana, as well.
“I will also have an office in the West Wing; and when you talk about the needs of Louisiana, you want someone in the West Wing,” he said. “If you look at where we are in this state—whether we are number one or number two in poverty, number one or number two in obesity, last in education, last in health outcomes—pretty much, for too long, we have been last in everything that is good and first in everything that is bad. And it hasn’t come from a lack of will by the people in Louisiana. It’s not the fault of our governor or our legislature. If we are going to improve the lives of people in Louisiana, it is going to come through investing in the people of Louisiana. And that is going to take real resources; it is going to take real money. It is going to take things that we do not have here alone in Louisiana. It is going to take the help of the federal government.”
Rep. Richmond’s foray into politics began only one year after graduating law school in 1999 when he was first elected to the Louisiana Legislature, serving there for 11 years. In 2010, Richmond beat incumbent U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao to serve Louisiana’s second congressional district, winning re-election every two years since then.
Richmond graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School. He received a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and his law degree from Tulane University School of Law. He also completed an executive program at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.
During the Tuesday morning press conference, Richmond addressed questions ranging from when he thinks the next COVID stimulus package will happen to whether he has plans to endorse a candidate for his congressional seat to the specific ways he believes he will be able to better serve the people of Louisiana in his role.
With regard to the stimulus relief package for Americans still facing uncertain times and financial crisis amid the ongoing pandemic, Richmond says he believes Congress will pass legislation before Christmas.
In reference to how he intends to use his new role to have greater influence and impact on the people of the nation and Louisiana, specifically, Richmond pointed to the access he will have to cabinet secretaries as they help shape and implement policies that impact everything from public education to coastal erosion.
With Democrats hanging on to their majority in the House of Representatives and Republicans maintaining control of the Senate unless Democrats in Georgia flip both U.S. Senate seats in runoffs to tighten the current margin, Congress will likely remain divided and stymied by partisan politics. It is a reality that may have also spurred Richmond to decide he could be more effective and have a greater impact by serving in the White House rather than in the legislative branch.
“It just makes more sense in a divided government to be (in the White House),” Richmond said. “If it were about me, then yes, I have great job security. I could be in the House for another 20 years. I could die in the House of Representatives. But at some point, you can’t just look at it as being about me. So I have to step out and hope that over the next four years, I can make changes that will last lifetimes, for generations.”
He continued, “I am not leaving the people of Louisiana. I am not leaving the people of the second congressional district. I am New Orleans through and through. But more importantly, for a kid like me who went to Osborne Elementary School four blocks from here, went on to Livingston Middle School about a mile from here, then went to Kennedy and St. Aug (high schools) and finished from Ben Franklin about a half a mile that way, I just want that next kid who is at Osborne or Livingston or any of our great New Orleans public schools that produced me and that my mother taught at for over 20 years to know that you can go from Osborne to the White House.”