Louisiana congresswoman takes office, replacing late husband

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, talks with Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., left, before a mock swearing-in photo opportunity on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Letlow easily won a special election for the northeast Louisiana-based U.S. House seat that her husband, Luke, couldn't fill because of his death from complications related to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Louisiana Republican Julia Letlow was sworn into the House on Wednesday, claiming the seat her late husband was elected to but never filled after dying of COVID-19 in late December, days before taking office.

Letlow easily won a special election last month to represent the heavily Republican district in northeastern Louisiana. A university administrator making her first run for public office, she won the backing of former President Donald Trump and decisively outraised her opponents.

Luke Letlow, 41, died on Dec. 29, five days before the new Congress convened. He was a top aide to Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., who had retired and whose seat he'd won. The Letlows have two children.

“I want to thank him for paving the way for me,” Julia Letlow said on the House floor after taking the oath of office from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Too many families like mine have experienced tragedy because of this pandemic,” Letlow said. “To those families: I see you, I hear you. And most importantly, I pray with you.”

She earned a Ph.D. after writing a dissertation on coping with the sudden death of family members. She dedicated it to her younger brother, Jeremy, who died in an auto accident as a teenager.

Letlow, 40, is the first female Republican elected to Congress from Louisiana. She will be on the House Agriculture Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee.

Her arrival trims the Democrats' House majority to 218-212, with five vacant seats. That slim margin has helped fan GOP hopes of capturing control of the chamber in next year's elections.