An exotic junket to start the year

Al Kamen
Columnist December 17, 2012

Itching for a post-holiday getaway?

A codel (shorthand, of course, for a congressional delegation trip) is leaving Jan. 5 for a week-plus jaunt to Southeast Asia. No word if there’s still room on the military and commercial jets that lawmakers will use, but if so, sign up.

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

The group so far includes Republican Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.), Ken Calvert (Calif.), and Tom Cole (Okla.) — all members of the House Appropriations committee’s defense subcommittee — and three subcommittee staffers. (Unclear whether any spouses are going.)

The Loop got a peek at a draft itinerary, and this one looks like a winner. Sure, there’s a bit of moderate lifting the first few days. The trip starts in Bangkok, where the lawmakers and staffers get briefed by embassy and military officials and tour the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences. Then it’s wheels up for Rangoon, Burma, where the schedule includes a day of meetings — possibly with Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Many of the sessions, though, are “requested,” meaning they haven’t yet been nailed down, so there’s a chance there could be even more downtime.

Finally, it’s on the more leisurely portion of the trip, with a light travel day on Thursday to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (just maybe a quick check-in at the embassy there), then a “cultural day” planned for Friday.

And what would a cultural day be without a day in scenic Siem Reap, a popular tourist destination that boasts historic temples and fabulous markets — should anyone care to pick up some antiques or native crafts. (And don’t forget to snap pictures at Angkor Wat!)

On Saturday, the travelers, by now exhausted, head home. But they can get only as far as Hong Kong, two hours away, where there could be a meeting with consular officials before the final leg back home on Monday.

So, why a two-night stopover in Hong Kong?

Well, remember that the city’s famed tailors often need customers to return the following day after an initial fitting to pick up those exquisite, and cheap, custom suits.

A hedge bet?

One name seems to be popping up increasingly in the chatter about possible picks to replace Steven Chu if he steps down as energy secretary: Tom Steyer, head of Farallon Capital Management, one of the world’s biggest hedge funds.

Steyer, a billionaire and major Democratic donor, is highly regarded by the White House, snagging a coveted speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Steyer wrote a multimillion-dollar check and teamed with former secretary of state George Shultz to help defeat a referendum that would have rolled back California’s ambitious renewable-energy legislation. He donated millions to create energy research and finance centers at Stanford University, and $25 million to launch an institute of energy sciences at Yale.

He’s been on a fairly long list of folks mentioned since the election for the job, including former Clinton White House chief of staff and Obama 2008 transition head John Podesta , founder and chairman of the Center for American Progress; former Colorado governor Bill Ritter , who runs the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University; former senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who was on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is co-author of “Blowout,” an energy eco-thriller; Susan Tierney , who was co-head of the 2008 Obama transition team for energy and was assistant secretary of energy for policy in the Clinton administration; and Steve Westly , a venture capitalist focusing on renewable-energy technology firms, former top California state official and major Obama fundraiser.

While Steyer, who’s also been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate, is under consideration, he’s also considered a man of action. That, of course, would be a tough fit in this town. Between budget constraints, problems on the Hill and the administration’s own seeming diffidence, getting the smallest thing done can be like a double root canal.

On the other hand, he’s stepping down from his hedge fund job in two weeks, so he’ll be looking for work, trying to feed the family . . .

Best buds

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy already has fans among the pothead set. After all, he’s paid tribute to the jam band Phish on the Senate floor — and he hangs out with groovy ice cream makers Ben and Jerry (among their flavors: Half Baked).

Now the Vermont Democrat is holding a hearing on their favorite topic. Leahy says he plans to hold a session in the new Congress to examine how federal laws and enforcement square with new state laws legalizing marijuana. In a letter to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske , Leahy even suggested that the feds ease up and be cool about a little personal stash: “One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law,” he wrote.

President Obama, too, may have won some kudos from pot smokers when he said in a recent interview that his administration wouldn’t waste time going after recreational users in Colorado and Washington, which legalized small amounts of the drug. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he told ABC.

Sounds like a case of the munchies.

With Emily Heil

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

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