A Roman holiday?

Al Kamen
Columnist March 19, 2013

That delegation of lawmakers who went to the Vatican to welcome the new pope may not have traveled in the style to which members of Congress are accustomed — but at least they didn’t have to shell out for their own tickets.

Under post-sequester rules announced by Speaker John Boehner, House members must fly commercial instead of taking military aircraft for overseas trips — and they have to pay for the privilege of having no legroom and eating gummy in-flight food out of their own office budgets or out of their committee’s purse.

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

But this trip got a bit of special treatment. We’re told that lawmakers attending it did not, in fact, have to dip into their own personal office budgets to buy tickets. Good thing, because a round-trip flight to Rome, on relatively short notice, can be pricey.

Instead, the trip was paid for from a State Department account used for such official outings.

The group, led by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), also included Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Ruben Hinojosa (D-Tex.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and the House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick Conroy.

Still, alas, the merry band of lawmakers had to fly commercial rather than in the miljets they know and love. So much for a posh Roman holiday.

Hillaryland no more

The foreign policy fulcrum has tilted sharply to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the Clinton-Gates era shifts to the Kerry-Hagel period.

Four years ago, as the incoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton cut a deal with President Obama giving her virtually complete control over hiring scores of her top aides — not just her outer-office team — thus protecting her extensive campaign network. Foggy Bottom was Hillaryland.

In contrast, Secretary of State John Kerry has so far brought in perhaps half a dozen or so of “his” top people. We’re told there are still a fair number of Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members who would dearly love to move to State — they’re just awaiting a call.

But if Kerry does offer them jobs, those folks — and any named by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — will be subjected to the hairy eyeball by the White House personnel people.

They rarely vetoed a Hillary pick. We know of only one example, though obviously there may have been others. And Gates, of course, already had his team in place. But Team Obama folks are branching out.

State’s spokeswoman-in-waiting, Jen Psaki , despite a stint on the 2004 Kerry campaign, is far more identified for her Obama ties, having senior press jobs in both his presidential runs and as deputy White House communications director.

And Steve Krupin, Kerry’s new chief speechwriter, was the Obama reelection campaign’s chief speechwriter. He’d been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s press secretary and worked press in Florida for Obama in 2008.

Meanwhile, insiders are watching to see what happens to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s deputy if, as expected, she becomes national security adviser later this year.

The deputy, Rexon Ryu, a former State Department official, is highly regarded by the White House for his work on the National Security Council staff on nonproliferation issues. But he was also deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy adviser to former senator Hagel and is still very close to him. Hagel, who also has a small personal team at Defense, might be looking for a few more pals.

So does Ryu follow Rice to the White House, follow Hagel to the Pentagon or head back to State? Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who tangled with Ryu at the State Department back in 2003, doubtless will be tracking this one.

No Z in USTR?

Looks like Jeffrey Zients’s chances are fading for snagging a White House nomination to be the U.S. trade representative.

President Obama has asked Zients to stay on in his current role as the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, a job that the administration oddly thinks precludes him from being named USTR, Reuters is reporting. Obama apparently wants him to remain until Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who he named to OMB chief, is confirmed.

Zients is well regarded and was considered a front-runner for the trade job, though we noted in recent weeks it seemed the White House was considering other candidates. Obama is under pressure to name more minorities to his Cabinet, and he has only a few slots, including USTR, left.

Other names said to be in the mix for the USTR job include Francisco Sánchez, the undersecretary of commerce for international trade, and Fred Hochberg, president of the Export-Import Bank.

Zients’s future is unclear, though he gets a vote of confidence: Reuters cites an administration source saying that “the president hoped he would remain in the administration and other options for him would be considered.”

Sounds like a euphemism for “consolation prize.”

Nobody’s peer

Proof that nobody, but nobody, gets out of their civic duty in Washington: None other than U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was spotted on Tuesday in a jury pool at D.C. Superior Court, reports our colleague Keith Alexander .

Unsurprisingly, the nation’s top lawyer wasn’t selected to rule on the case, which involved a stolen cellphone.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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