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Exit Interview: Cao Reflects on Unlikely Term

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) only has a few days left as a Member of Congress, but he isn’t quite ready to leave government.

“I am still waiting for President [Barack] Obama to appoint me to the ambassadorship of Vietnam,” Cao said with a laugh during his exit interview with Roll Call.

Cao, the first-ever Vietnamese-born Member, is passionate about human-rights issues in his homeland. But if the coveted ambassadorship doesn’t materialize, Cao has a backup plan.

“The people of Louisiana gave me the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “So I hope to continue to serve them in other capacities, possibly to run for public office again.”

While it’s unlikely Cao could ever win back his seat — in a year that saw Republican gains throughout the country, he lost re-election to his New Orleans-area district by 32 points — he says there are some statewide offices he would consider. He declined to elaborate on which ones.

Cao surprised everyone, himself included, in 2008 when he ousted then-indicted (now convicted) Democratic Rep. William Jefferson during a low-turnout election that had been delayed a month because of Hurricane Gustav.

“I’ve always desired to be a Member of Congress, but to actually be one was something I thought was way beyond my reach,” Cao said.

His time on the Hill was short but notable. He became a central figure in the health care debate as Democrats lobbied him hard to support the bill, including a personal phone call from the president. He did vote for the first version of the bill, the only Republican to do so, but voted against the final bill, citing concerns that the legislation did not do enough to prohibit public funding for abortions.

“I voted ‘no’ [on the Senate bill] knowing full well that it could cost me my seat,” Cao said.

In truth, given the demographics and ideological tilt of the district, Cao said his re-election was always going to be an uphill battle.

“I’m an Asian-American Republican, representing a district that is 70 percent Democrat and 60 percent African-American,” Cao said. “The prospect for me to hold the seat for a very long time was minimal.”

Emily Heil contributed to this report.

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