This message greeted visitors at U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidys office in Metairie on Friday.
This message greeted visitors at U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidys office in Metairie on Friday. Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

Louisiana’s two U.S. senators have been deluged with calls from constituents reacting to President Donald Trump’s controversial Cabinet appointments and executive orders. A number of local residents have encountered busy signals, full voicemail boxes, and for Sen. Bill Cassidy, a field office that appears to be closed more often than it’s open.

The Lens visited Cassidy’s Metairie office twice Friday during business hours. No one was there either time. A sign on the door read, “Sorry We Missed Your Visit. We are currently out of the office and available by appointment only.”

“Who’s minding the store?” asked Kathleen Patton. She showed up there on Jan. 24 and was told no one was there to talk to her. “It’s so counterintuitive. Why would you have an office?”

In a phone interview, a staffer explained the office is there for field workers, who are typically out meeting with constituents rather than taking phone calls at their desks.

With the U.S. Senate poised to confirm two of Trump’s most controversial Cabinet nominees — Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education and Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General — callers across the country have overwhelmed senators’ phone lines. The vote could happen as early as Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. John Kennedy told The Lens that his Washington, D.C. office received more than 1,000 phone calls from constituents last week.

A Cassidy spokesman said the senator’s eight offices — seven in Louisiana and one in Washington — were “receiving a tremendous volume of calls,” though he didn’t provide specifics.

Both are Republicans and Trump supporters.

“We’ve requested additional phone lines to accommodate the volume,” Cassidy spokesman John Cummins said in an email last week.

“We cover 16 parishes, so we’re out among the 16 parishes in Louisiana — that’s our job.”—Wade Moody, local staffer for U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy

The Lens was able to get through to voicemail at Kennedy’s Washington office, his only one. He is setting up offices in Louisiana after beginning his first Senate term last month, according to spokeswoman Michelle Millhollon.

Voicemail boxes at three of Cassidy’s Louisiana offices were full late last week. The phone at his Metairie office rang for several minutes with no answer.

Val Uccellani has called Cassidy’s offices in Metairie and Washington several times a week over the past few weeks to voice her opposition to Devos and to Trump’s travel ban — now on hold — for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.

“I’ve had more success with the D.C. office,” she said, although she hadn’t actually spoken with anyone. Friday was the first time she was able to leave a message at Cassidy’s Metairie field office.

“Sometimes I do get as far as an answering machine, but then it doesn’t let me leave a message,” she said.

She has been able to reach staffers at Kennedy’s office.

Some people used Twitter to express their frustration over not being able to reach their senators.
Some people used Twitter to express their frustration over not being able to reach their senators.

Jennifer Oliver-Goodwin said the voicemail at Cassidy’s Washington office has been full every time she’s called. Same thing with Kennedy’s.

And people haven’t done much better trying to visit Cassidy’s local office. Patton said she and others “couldn’t even get into the elevator” when they showed up two weeks ago.

About 15 people were there when she arrived, including members of a group called Metairie Indivisible, which describes itself as a “bipartisan, grassroots community … united in opposition to the Trump agenda.”

Building management and security staff told them that unless they had an appointment, they had to leave and move their cars, Patton said. The police were called, and they told the group they had to leave because the office is in a private building.

“For the past two weeks, we’ve been trying to set up visits at Sen. Cassidy’s office,” said Lara Crigger, an organizer for Metairie Indivisible.

Crigger said she showed up again on Jan. 30. She spoke with Rachel Perez, Cassidy’s southeastern regional director, who said she would meet with her the next day.

She showed up at the scheduled time and waited 45 minutes before speaking to Perez. In a brief conversation, Crigger told Perez she hoped Cassidy would denounce Trump’s travel ban for the seven majority-Muslim countries. Perez told her the protesters had to keep the parking lot free for other tenants in the building.

The Lens reached Cassidy staffer Wade Moody at the Metairie office last week after several tries. Moody said Perez wasn’t available to talk.

He explained that he and other staffers don’t spend a lot of time in the office. They do field work — community meetings and other constituent outreach — throughout southeastern Louisiana.

“We cover 16 parishes, so we’re out among the 16 parishes in Louisiana — that’s our job,” Moody said. What’s more, he said, the Metairie office, unlike Cassidy’s main Louisiana office in Baton Rouge, doesn’t have an administrative assistant.

“They’d have to get an administrative person to be in the office all day,” he said.

Cummins, Cassidy’s spokesman, did not respond to follow-up questions from The Lens.

Monday, things seemed better at Cassidy’s offices. The Lens got through to staffers or functioning voicemail systems at each one.

“I have been getting indications over the past day or two that things are getting better. I’ve gotten through to the D.C. office twice and spoken to a live human being,” Crigger said late last week.

“I don’t think there’s anything nefarious going on here,” she said. “I just think they’re understaffed.”

How to reach your U.S. senators

Sen. Bill Cassidy

Washington, D.C.
703 Hart SOB
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5824
Fax: (202) 224-9735

Baton Rouge
5555 Hilton Ave.
Suite 100
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
Phone: (225) 929-7711
Fax: (225) 929-7688

3421 N. Causeway Blvd.
Suite 204
Metairie, LA 70002
Phone: (504) 838-0130
Fax: (504) 838-0133

101 La Rue France
Suite 505
Lafayette, LA 70508
Phone: (337) 261-1400
Fax: (337) 261-1490

Lake Charles
1 Lakeshore Drive
Suite 1155
Lake Charles, LA 70629
Phone: (337) 493-5398
Fax: (337) 493-5629

1651 Louisville Ave
Suite 123
Monroe, LA 70201
Phone: (318) 324-2111
Fax: (318)324-2197

3600 Jackson Street
Suite 115A
Alexandria, LA 71303
Phone: (318) 448-7176
Fax: (318) 448-5175

6425 Youree Dr.
Suite 415
Shreveport, LA 71105
Phone: (318) 798-3215
Fax: (318) 798-6959

Sen. John Kennedy

Washington, D.C.
SRB11, Russell Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4623
Fax: (202) 228-0447

This story was updated to add the word “some” to the headline to make it clear, as the story describes, that some people were able to reach their senators. (Feb. 7, 2017)

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...