Ambassadorial nominations hearing — with Taliban as subtext — may come with fireworks

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee may bring us early Fourth of July fireworks Wednesday at a hearing over three ambassadorial nominees.

The trio this time aren’t bundlers, but career Foreign Service officers nominated for Egypt, Iraq and Qatar, that last country being the new temporary residence of the Taliban Five, the prisoners released from Guantanamo in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

We’re hearing the nominee for Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, who has served in the region and speaks Arabic, was a late addition to the mix for the hearing, brought in at the insistence of the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.).

The Democrats wanted to focus on the nominees for Egypt and Syria — Robert S. Beecroft and Stuart E. Jones, respectively — thinking that might be enough for a day, but we were told Corker wanted Qatar included.

A Corker spokesperson denied this. “The administration made the request and both the chairman [Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)] and ranking member agreed.”

While she wasn’t involved in the controversial exchange, Smith will come under sharp questioning over how the Taliban leaders will be dealt with by Qatar, which has pledged to monitor their one-year stay.

Under terms of the still-secret deal, sources told our colleague Anne Gearan, the Taliban will be subject to strict bans on militant incitement or fundraising in Qatar, as well as a one-year ban on traveling outside the country. However, one of the five has already pledged to return to the battlefield to fight Americans.

The official Bergdahl hearing is taking place at the House Armed Services Committee, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will be testifying. But if you can’t get a seat at that one, you can surely get your Bergdahl outrage fix at the nomination hearing.

Starts at 11 a.m.

A shred of nostalgia

So, what is the statute of limitations for poking fun at yourself for committing a felony?

For Oliver North, it’s apparently just shy of three decades.

On Tuesday morning, North tweeted a picture of himself next to a large paper shredder with the caption: “When I come across an industrial strength shredder, I just can’t restrain myself.”

A little history refresher: North was a National Security Council staffer in the Ronald Reagan administration who became infamous for his involvement in the Iran-contra scandal. He disposed of incriminating documents by shredding them and having his secretary, Fawn Hall — last seen working at a bookstore in Southern California, by the way — sneak them out under her skirt. For the duo, shredding papers was a cheap thrill.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a reference to North that doesn’t include his predilections for shredding. (And for that matter, a reference to paper shredding that doesn’t mention North.)

Naturally, North’s posing with a paper shredder brought out the best in Twitter snark. Nothing like an old political scandal to bring out nostalgia for simpler (?) times.

A bid to fill a State post

A bipartisan group of 49 foreign policy veterans — including some former senior officials in the Bush II administration — is calling on the Senate to fill the job of assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs — John R. Bolton’s old job during Bush I.

The job has been vacant for a year, and the nomination of Bathsheba Crocker, a foreign policy hand who’s now at the State Department, has been pending for about seven months.

The foreign policy heavyweights, including former deputy secretary of state John D. Negroponte and Bush White House and State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III, wrote to Senate leaders recently about the nomination, noting the critical issues the Bureau of International Organization Affairs has before it, such as Crimea, Ukraine and Syria, Iranian nukes, and so on.

In the post-nuclear-option world, virtually no nominations are moving, even when, as is the case with Crocker, they have broad bipartisan support and a unanimous vote of approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We’re told the group urges that “her quick confirmation would send a strong message that the U.S. Senate is serious about ensuring the United States” continues to lead the world for democracy and freedom.

We’re thinking it’s gonna take a whole lot more than that before anyone thinks the Senate is serious about anything these days.

What rhymes with ‘stretch’?

Nothing gets your foot tapping like a little ditty about congressional procedure.

At a House hearing on music-licensing laws Tuesday, Lee Thomas Miller , a country music songwriter, was testifying earnestly about the difficulty lyricists have making a living when music is so easily obtained for free online.

“I am America’s smallest small business. I sit down and make stuff up. I do not succeed if my songs are not recorded, sold and played,” he said. Aiming for the heartstrings of the panel, he told them that his 11-year-old son asked his wife if, after the Capitol Hill hearing, all their problems would go away.

“And to her, I have to say, I don’t know. It’s a hard process, obviously a complicated process. I am not the legal guy here. I look for words to rhyme with love every day,” Miller said. “Until yesterday, I had never used the word ‘omnibus’ — okay? And that’s the truth.”

Considering Congress’s record of late, no one on that dais was going to be able to give Miller’s son any guarantees that legislation promoting songwriter equity will pass. But at least one lawmaker used the opportunity to show off some sweet song-making skills.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) suggested a line for Miller: “Omnibus pieces of legislation tend to omit all of us.”

Because bus rhymes with us . . . kind of.

But a colleague crushed that idea.

“I hate to think that you would spend a second after this hearing trying to rhyme anything with ‘omnibus,’” Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (R-Fla.) told Miller. “Let me tell you, there’s nobody who would buy that record and listen to that record, least of all members of Congress.”

— With Colby Itkowitz

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

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