Heard on the Hill

D.C. Mardi Gras Gives Louisiana Delegation a Taste of Home

‘It’s a good chance to mix pleasure and business,’ says Sen. John Kennedy

The Scalise family celebrates the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans last month. Back: Jennifer Scalise, Whip Steve Scalise. Front: Harrison Scalise, Madison Scalise. (Courtesy Rep. Steve Scalise’s office)

D.C. Mardi Gras is one of the Louisiana delegation’s favorite traditions, and a chance to do a little work.

The annual Louisiana ALIVE celebration, which showcases the state’s culture, takes place Thursday at the Washington Hilton. That’s followed by Friday’s Festival dinner, and Saturday’s Mardi Gras Ball, a black-tie event.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is this year’s chairman, and gets to pick the king and queen — “The most important role,” the Louisiana Republican said.

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Scalise is also in charge of the economic development lunch on Friday and asked Stephen Moore, one of President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers, to be the guest speaker.

“There’s a massive, huge demand for tickets for that event,” he said.

Scalise brought king cake, a Mardi Gras staple, from home. His colleagues “devour it,” he said. “It will not last five minutes here at the Capitol — everyone knows what it is now.”

D.C. Mardi Gras started in the 1940s, initially for busy years like this one.

“We’re actually going to be voting on Mardi Gras day [Feb. 28], so you don’t have the ability to participate in Mardi Gras back home,” Scalise said. “It’s really caught on and sustained itself.”

“You get everybody from the business leaders to the political leaders of the state to come up and have a lot of fun and get a lot of work done in the process,” he said. “You see a lot of friends from back home up here in D.C., which is part of the tradition of it.”

Sen. John Kennedy, left, and his son, Preston in 1999 in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Kennedy's office)
Sen. John Kennedy, left, and his son, Preston, in 1999 in New Orleans. (Courtesy Sen. John Kennedy's office)

This is freshman GOP Sen. John Kennedy’s first D.C. Mardi Gras as a member of the Bayou State delegation, although he has been to the events before.

“I’m going to all the festivities,” he said. “I’m going to all the parties, which serve a dual purpose: to have fun and celebrate Mardi Gras but also to hear what’s on people’s minds. It’s a good chance to mix pleasure and business.”

In New Orleans, the party has been going on since Jan. 6 — the day after the twelfth night of Christmas.

Scalise said the parades are his family’s favorite part of the holiday.

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“We’ve got young kids, 9 and 7, so we love taking our kids to some of the bigger parades,” Scalise said.

His wife is in D.C. this weekend, but his children are in Louisiana because of school. So later this month, he said they’re all going to Endymion, one of the biggest parades in New Orleans on the Saturday night before Mardi Gras.

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His children will also see the congressman riding in Bacchus this year, the following day’s parade.

Kennedy said he generally watches Mardi Gras in New Orleans “uptown, off of St. Charles [Avenue.]”

It’s also a chance for him to “eat fried chicken, watch the floats, catch beads, look at people, see friends.”

“I especially loved [the parades] when [my son] was younger. I could put him on my shoulder,” the senator said. “Now, he could put me on his shoulders.” 

Scalise recalled the feeling of not being back home during the biggest event of the year.

 “Two years ago, I’m literally getting on a plane the morning of Mardi Gras,” he said. “We didn’t have votes on Monday so I got to go to some of the Lundi Gras events. Mardi Gras morning, when everyone else is getting up to go out to St. Charles Avenue with their kids, I’m getting on a plane and flying out. … It was kind of depressing.”

Scalise on Mardi Gras:

  • Have you been able to find good king cake in D.C.? I bring my king cake from back home.
  • Best place in New Orleans for king cake: Randazzo’s and Haydel’s.
  • Favorite dish besides king cake: Popeyes’ fried chicken.
  • Favorite music from Mardi Gras: They always have a zydeco band, the Bayou Boys, and the last few years, they’ve had me up on stage to play the washboard with them.
  • Who taught you to play the washboard: [Louisiana musician] Buckwheat Zydeco, a couple of years ago.

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