CHERYL CORLEY, host:
And now we turn to a Congressman Anh Joseph Cao. As we mentioned, he's a Republican representing Louisiana second congressional district, and he joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program, congressman.
Representative ANH JOSEPH CAO (Republican, Louisiana): Well, thank you for inviting me to your show.
CORLEY: Well, you beat nine-term Democrat William Jefferson in November to win your congressional seat. You're now six weeks on the job, how are you adjusting to life in Washington?
Rep. CAO: Life here is very hectic. The day begins at 7:30, 8:00 in the morning and it generally does not end until 8:00, possibly 9:00 or 10:00 at night.
CORLEY: Well, after you won your election in November, House Minority Leader John Boehner issued what's become a much publicized memo titled "The Future is Cao," playing of the phrase, the future is now. Quite a heavy load, I would imagine, for a freshman congressman, but how do you balance representing a Democratic-leaning constituency that you have in your district and being true to your Republican values?
Rep. CAO: First and foremost, I'm honored that the minority leader put me forward as the future of the Republican Party. However, my focus must be on the second congressional district. And I was voted by my constituents to represent the second congressional district in Louisiana and that is what I intend to do.
CORLEY: Well, Congressman Cao, we just heard from one of your constituents, Gralen Banks, and he said he's worried that, as a freshman, you're focused on establishing yourself as a loyal Republican and that could interfere with serving the people in your district. And he said your vote against the stimulus package was an example of that. How do you respond to that - the comments from Mr. Banks?
Rep. CAO: I'm not sure whether or not Mr. Banks is familiar with the stimulus bill. But the stimulus bill was not good for the district. The bill, as provided by the White House, provides the least job retention and/or creation for the Second District. And the bill also provides the least amount of money for the Second District of all the districts in the United States.
The Second District is one of the poorest and was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and to receive the least amount of money and to receive the least amount of job creation and/or retention was not adequate. Therefore, my vote against the stimulus bill was not a political vote, but rather, a vote as what is best for my district.
CORLEY: You're saying that you needed more money in the package than what was coming to Louisiana and the district.
Rep. CAO: Yes, that's absolutely right because when my staff and I would look at the bill, we realized that in the long term we will actually pay out more than what we would receive in the short term under the stimulus bill. And to put the people of the Second District in such a tax burden, given the fact that most of the people are worrying about rebuilding - they have to spend every single dime of their hard-earned money to rebuild their property, to rebuild their business - and now to carry a tax burden that maybe in the future can be quite overwhelming, was, in my opinion, too much to ask of my constituents. Therefore, the vote against the bill was a vote for district.
CORLEY: Wasn't the argument from your constituents though, congressman, that the district really needed those federal funds regardless of the amount?
Rep. CAO: Well, the stimulus bill provides very little in hurricane-related recovery. The stimulus bill only provides around $300 million for infrastructure spending for the whole state. And if you were to divide that among seven districts, each district would approximately receive around $47 million, which is very little compared to needs of the district.
Presently, there are over $3 billion in Katrina and Rita-related funding that are still being held up either by FEMA and out-of-state. And I believe that this portion of money being held up by FEMA and out-of-state, the $3 billion or so, will provide much more stimulative effect for the Second District than ten stimulus bills.
CORLEY: Well, the city is still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina more than three years after the storm. What help do you think the city needs now and how much of that can come from the federal government?
Rep. CAO: Well, the city needs very much a healthcare system. We need to provide our people with coastal restoration and levee protection. And much of that money has already been appropriated under the previous bills in connection with Hurricane Katrina and Rita.
CORLEY: On the subject of Katrina and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, you've been very vocal in calling for them to do better in managing aid for the area. Specifically, what do you think FEMA should be doing differently?
Rep. CAO: First and foremost, my constituents and I, we are very thankful, and we appreciate everything that the people of FEMA have done for the district. However, it seems like they're not focusing on rebuilding, but rather than on saving the federal government money. And I believe that the focus of FEMA must be back to rebuilding the infrastructure, to help and assist the district in this rebuilding process rather than on how much is or was this damaged by the hurricane or be bogged down by property adjustments. I believe that is the wrong approach.
CORLEY: Congressman Cao, as we mentioned, you're six weeks on the job now. What are your legislative priorities looking forward?
Rep. CAO: First and foremost, a highway bill. We are looking at the highway bill to see whether or not we can bring to Jefferson Parish the $15 million in funding that they require for the expansion of Manhattan Boulevard. We are also looking at crime prevention, a mentoring program, education, expansion of the Port of New Orleans and many other issues that presently affect the district.
CORLEY: It sounds like you have your work cut out for you.
Rep. CAO: Well, yes we do. And I have a very dedicated staff who are working extremely hard to address the many issues of the district and to provide and to assist all of my constituents in their needs, whether they are Republican, Democrats, African, Asian or white. We have a very hard working staff and will do whatever they can in order to assist everyone in the district.
CORLEY: Congressman Anh Joseph Cao is a Republican representing Louisiana's Second District, and he joined us from Capitol Hill. Thank you so much, congressman.
Rep. CAO: Thank you.
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