RABALAIS’ POLITICAL HISTORY: The Bossier Rep Who Stuck With Nixon Until The Bitter End

On the morning of Aug. 9, 1974, Richard Nixon climbed onto the presidential helicopter, waved goodbye and flew away from the White House after resigning in disgrace.

In the intervening 44 years, journalists and historians have written countless accounts of the Watergate break-in, the subsequent cover-up and the scandal that doomed Nixon’s presidency. Frequently overlooked is the story of Louisiana Congressman Joe Waggonner and his supporting role in the national drama.

Right as Nixon was riding his landslide victory of 1972, Waggonner was winning his seventh term in Congress. The Bossier Parish native represented the northwestern corner of the state in the House, holding the seat in the Fourth District. A staunchly conservative Democrat, Waggoner often crossed party lines on votes and had a habit of lecturing the more liberal members of his party during floor speeches.

Waggonner’s conservative streak had endeared him to Nixon and his aides. The congressman had also been their unofficial whip among his Democratic colleagues, helping line up the votes to pass some of the administration’s key legislation. But above all, Waggonner had been reliable and loyal, and those were two qualities that the president, an incredibly insecure man, valued above all others.

As the congressional investigations into Watergate started closing in on the White House, Nixon turned to Waggonner for support. The congressman publicly defended the president, calling for an end to the inquiry and chalking it up to a partisan vendetta against Nixon.

However, the House Judiciary Committee discovered evidence linking the crimes to Nixon’s henchmen and started considering charges of impeachment. When the White House refused to hand over tapes of the president’s conversations, even the most reliable allies in Congress ran for cover and stopped taking calls from the commander-in-chief.

Panicked, Nixon phoned Waggonner, one of the few members who would still take his calls and was willing to fight impeachment. The congressman assured him that he could get 70 Democrats, mostly Southerners, to vote with him and block referring the charges against Nixon to the Senate for a trial. Since Waggonner’s counts had been highly accurate in the past, the administration believed it could survive a vote in the House.

But when the tapes were finally made public, there was very little doubt about the president’s complicity in the criminal acts committed by the White House. When the staff informed Nixon that the whip count was hemorrhaging votes, he again lobbied Waggonner for support. The outlook was grim. Less than half of the congressman’s original commitments were still willing to vote against impeachment and that number was dropping rapidly.

Nixon later recalled that, as he got off of the call with Waggonner, he began to realize that he may actually have to resign or be removed from office.

Days later, Waggonner was invited to the White House for a meeting with Nixon. Also in the room was the core of dwindling supporters that the president still had in Congress.

Nixon, exhausted and distraught, entered and informed the assembled group that he would announce his resignation that evening. "I am sorry I have let you down,” he told them.

It would not be their last meeting. When the former president finally left his home after weeks of seclusion, his first stop was a party in Shreveport, hosted by his old friend, Congressman Joe Waggonner.

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates

The Tuesday Tracker Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates November 13, 2018 Issue No. 165 By Mitch Rabalais

SPONSORED: Picard Participates In Collaborative Panel Discussion

As Chair-Elect of the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) and member of the Committee of 100, Tyron Picard recently participated in a

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates By MITCH RABALAIS (mitch@lapolitics.com) & JEREMY ALFORD

SPONSORED: TPG Attends Microsoft Consultant’s Retreat

TPG’s Mike Michot and Evan Boudreaux recently attended the 2018 Microsoft State Governmental Affairs Consultant’s Retreat, providing an

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates October 30, 2018 Issue No. 163 Special “BRUH!” Edition By: Mitch

SPONSORED: The Picard Group

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates

The Tuesday Tracker, Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates October 23, 2018 — Issue No. 162 By Mitch Rabalais

SPONSORED: LPCA Hold 35th Annual Conference

TPG’s client Louisiana Primary Care Association (LPCA) held their 35th Annual Conference last week at the Shreveport Convention Center. LPCA

The Tuesday Tracker Sponsored By Harris, DeVille & Associates

October 16, 2018 — Issue No. 161 By Jeremy Alford (JJA@LaPolitics.com) & Mitch Rabalais (Mitch@LaPolitics.com) (Printable

CORRECTION (LaPolitics Weekly 10.12.18)

In a “Field Notes” brief from yesterday’s LaPolitics Weekly, we erroneously reported that the Plaquemines Parish Council voted 4-3 to remove

The WEDNESDAY Tracker, Sponsored By Harris DeVille & Associates

October 10, 2018 — Issue No. 160 By Jeremy Alford (JJA@LaPolitics.com) & Mitch Rabalais (Mitch@LaPolitics.com) RISPONE IS IN Fast

SPONSORED: Bike MS + Team Blu Collar = Success

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you work as a team, focused on one goal and motivating each other to succeed. On October 6 and

SPONSORED: The Picard Group

TUESDAY TRACKER (For Oct. 2!)

October 2, 2018 — Issue No. 159 By Jeremy Alford (JJA@LaPolitics.com) & Mitch Rabalais (Mitch@LaPolitics.com)  IT AIN’T

SPONSORED: Honoring Former Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

The Picard Group was honored to attend the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center gala on Friday, September 21, supporting UL

SPONSORED: Franco-Fête 2018 Fundraising Luncheon For Scholarship Program Of CODOFIL

Each year, Franco-Fête raises funds to support French education in Louisiana, especially through La Fondation Louisiane’s “Escadrille

The Tuesday Tracker (Sponsored By Harris DeVille & Associates)

September 18, 2018 — Issue No. 158 By Jeremy Alford (JJA@LaPolitics.com) & Mitch Rabalais

CAPITOL GAINS: Does Louisiana need a lieutenant governor?

You’ve really need to watch this interview. From being mistaken for Coach O and fielding attacks from fellow Republicans, to why John

SPONSORED: The Picard Group

A Rare WEDNESDAY Tracker!

Five questions for JBJ at 86, a giveaway contest, forgotten history, AG versus JBE, more "Chatter" and some rather important birthdays (no

SPONSORED: Successful LegisGator Event Honors Lawmakers

On August 24, more than 800 legislators, business leaders, supporters, lobbyists, and others involved in the political realm gathered at

SWAMPERS & SWORDS: Alford’s late summer’s ode to Louisiana’s cities, towns, & villages

SWAMPERS & SWORDS Alford’s late summer’s ode to Louisiana's cities, towns, & villages IF YOU’RE GOING TO DIVE into a review

Rabalais’ Political History: Wade O. Martin & the creation of the modern SOS office

In 1956, an epic power struggle between two political giants forever changed the scope of statewide elected offices in Louisiana. The

ALFORD: You Want Mayors? We’ve Got Mayors!

ALFORD’S SYNDICATED OPINION COLUMN You Want Mayors? We've Got Mayors! Fake mayors, real mayors, convicted mayors, interim mayors,

POLITICAL CHATTER

The Louisiana Lottery is about to have some competition. The Mississippi Legislature voted this afternoon to create a lottery there. Gov.