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Posted at 12:29 PM ET, 02/21/2013

Two Hill staffers tied for most ‘cultural’ trips abroad


The Great Wall of China is among the sights lawmakers and staffers have visited on ‘cultural exchange’ trips. (MARK RALSTON - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
And the winner is... when our colleague T.W. Farnam reported on all those “cultural exchange” trips that lawmakers and their staffs take, we couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous. The destinations — China, the Alps, Thailand — sounded fantastic, and the sightseeing, eating and souvenir shopping a blast.

So to whom should we direct our green-eyed gaze? Farnam tells us that the most-travelled staffers are two House aides who each have disclosed 13 trips over a six-year period.

Nice work if you can get it.

One of them, Arturo Estopinan, the D.C. chief of staff for Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has spent a total of 109 days abroad on trips financed by foreign governments.

Ros-Lehtinen is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, so perhaps her staffers need a global perspective. “As chief of staff, I constantly deal with issues, cases and constituents that have an international aspect and therefore my role is similar to that of a staffer on the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Estopinan told Farnam in an e-mailed statement.

Estopinan is tied with Ed McDonald, the chief of staff for Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), whose jaunts Farnam chronicled in his in-depth piece on the cultural trips. McDonald has taken at least six trips to China.

“We need to be informed,” McDonald told Farnam. “As the congressman’s chief of staff, I’m his top policy adviser, so it’s important to learn about as many issues as I can.”

More about the jet-setting ways of Hill staffers, per Farnam’s reporting:

Records show that 23 senior staffers have taken three or more trips in one year from 2006 through 2011. They have disclosed at least 34 return trips to countries they’ve visited before.

Kristin Smith, an aide to former congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), went on five trips in one year, spending 39 days in 2010 traveling to Korea, Taiwan, Jordan, China and Japan. Rehberg, who was on an appropriations subcommittee dealing with foreign affairs at the time, did not return a request for comment and Smith declined to comment.

By  |  12:29 PM ET, 02/21/2013

 
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