Rep. Jeff Landry's frequent press releases cast the freshman Republican as the chief foe of President Barack Obama's drilling moratorium (and himself as "the House's leading authority on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico"), but Landry abandoned his oil wars for culture wars last week when he announced his recent membership in the Values Action Team (VAT).
It's a little-discussed group of representatives that gathers weekly in Washington to advance "family values" issues. VAT was founded in 1998 by then-Rep. Tom DeLay in response to complaints from Religious Right leaders that candidates courted their votes at election time but neglected their concerns once in office. The group's initial goal, according to a contemporaneous story in The Washington Post, was "to push bills banning late-term abortions, eliminating the 'marriage penalty' from the tax code and abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts."
The VAT was subsequently led by Rep. Sam Brownback; its current leader is Rep. Joe Pitts. Its goals still track familiar "family values" lines: opposition to abortion, gay rights and hate-crime legislation, support of abstinence-only education and school vouchers. One of Brownback's chief victories was the broadcast bill enacted after Janet Jackson's infamous nipple flash during the 2004 Super Bowl, which increased possible penalties that could be leveled by the Federal Communications Commission when it came to televised indecency.
Very little has been written about the VAT, however. It has no website and purposely operates out of the spotlight. In 2006, a Brownback aide told Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Sharlet that the group is designed to be "cloak-and-dagger." VAT meetings regularly include representatives from groups including the Family Research Council (FRC), the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and the Traditional Values Coalition. "Everything that is said is strictly off the record, and even the groups themselves are forbidden from discussing the proceedings," Sharlet reported.
Landry's office supplied Gambit with a current roster of Congressional VAT members, a list of more than 60 representatives that included Louisiana Reps. John Fleming, R-Minden, and Steve Scalise, R-Metairie. Others on the list included GOP House luminaries Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, Jean Schmidt and Michele Bachmann.
"I am delighted to become a member of VAT, an organization that has achieved multiple pro-life and pro-family victories," Landry was quoted as saying in his press release. "I will continue to stand up in Congress for the unborn, for the elderly and for our families."
In 2006, Family Research Council leader (and former Louisiana state representative) Tony Perkins told Sharlet that when it comes to "impacting policy, day to day, the VAT is instrumental." — Allman