Loop Guide to Codels (updated edition)


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sits for a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/Pool via AP)

The Cantor Codel, the week-long swing through Asia over Easter break, reminds us that it’s time to reprise and update the official “In the Loop Guide to Codels.”

First published in 2007, the guide is designed to help lawmakers — and senior executive branch officials — resist the temptation to take a taxpayer-funded junket with that long-suffering spouse on a “fact-finding trip” to exotic places on a military jet. These trips are ultra first-class with all manner of pampering — even a doctor on board — so the temptation is enormous.

The risk: Despite your absurd claims that “security” concerns require a secret itinerary, the press sometimes finds out where you’ve gone. This can lead to most unwelcome publicity.

So, for travelers who want to avoid snarky press coverage, we offer the following:

Rule 1. Try to travel to places that have a direct relationship to important foreign policy issues. In addition to such places as Pakistan, India, China and Russia, this would include war-torn countries in Africa, Gaza, Syria and eastern Ukraine.

Note: Voters are becoming wise to the shallowness of lawmakers doing quickie trips to Afghanistan, having pictures taken with the troops from their districts — troops rounded up specially for the occasion — and given guided tours so they can thump their chests and say, “I’ve been to Kabul.” Also easy to spot those quick trips to justify a slow return trip meandering through Europe.

Rule 2. Ditch the spouse: Spouses raise red flags for reporters. Reporters are no longer buying the dodge about spouses traveling “at no extra cost.” Understaffed embassy personnel have to schedule separate events and provide vans, maybe security, guides and so forth for day trips, sightseeing and shopping. Given chronic understaffing at U.S. embassies, this is hardly what those folks need to be doing.

Corollary: On a generic “meetings with foreign leaders” trip, avoid lingering. Spouses tend to lengthen trips, with evenings devoted to receptions and dinners — as opposed to meeting with dissidents in hiding, human rights advocates, harassed religious leaders and/or refugees.

Rule 3. Avoid going north in the summer, south in the winter. Never go anywhere in Italy, at any time, on the taxpayers’ dime. European travel in general, especially in the early fall or in the spring, will raise eyebrows. Winter trips to the Caribbean are inherently suspect. (Transportation Department officials should avoid the annual Global Pontoon Safety Conference in Bali.)

Rule 4. Do not go to various wonders of the world: Petra, the pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, Iguazu Falls, the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat or African game parks. (The Cantor delegation violated this rule, but we trust they spent a day at the 1,300-year-old wall to pick up useful lessons from early Chinese border security efforts.

Rule 5. Do not blow off intelligence briefings at the embassies. You are there, after all, to gather facts. Embassy folks may, or may not, have some.

Rule 6. Do not overload your military aircraft with the bargain booty — rugs, vases, golf clubs, artifacts and such — that you hope to sneak in without regular customs inspection.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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