Congress takes a recess in Europe

Correction: Earlier versions of this item misstated the title of German leader Angela Merkel. She is the chancellor, not the prime minister. This version has been corrected.

Al Kamen
Columnist June 23, 2011

Hurry! Hurry! Time is running out to get on a couple of super-fine congressional-delegation trips (codels) to Europe over the congressional recess. We understand that seats may still be available.

Did you have a fine time with Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, on his trip just last month to Dublin, Vienna and Prague?

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

Then you might want to sign up for his latest — but it leaves after work on Friday, so get packing. This one goes to Rome for the weekend and then on to Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. After that you hit the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, and then it’s on to Moscow, with a stop in Lisbon on the way home.

You’ll be back “by noon on July 3rd,” our invite says, “to allow members to catch afternoon flights back to their districts,” so you can sit in the back of that festooned convertible and wave at the crowds on the Fourth.

Sure, maybe your spouse might find this codel a bit hectic — too many stops in just 10 days. We tend to agree. But remember, this is business class all the way on a military jet. This means you leave your passports and luggage at the Rayburn Building and your bags will await you in your rooms at every stop. This is no-lines travel. Can’t get easier.

The reason for the trip, we’re told, is to “examine the European financial crisis” and check out “foreign operations of the U.S. government.” And what a better time to do that than this weekend, as you wander about the Piazza Navona or dine in Trastevere?

Didn’t do the Burton codel last month? You can still see beautiful Prague in early summer. Just hop on the mil-jet leaving Sunday afternoon with a 10-member (plus spouses and staff) bipartisan delegation to Germany (visiting troops there), and Krakow in Poland, and Budapest, Prague and London.

This one is led by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Aaron Schock (Ill.), Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga..) also on board.

The idea, we understand, is to talk about NATO’s role in Libya, shore up relations with the allies — a bit frayed these days — and chat about strategic initiatives. And don’t miss a glorious sunset stroll on the Charles River bridge. You’ll be awed by the stunning Prague skyline.

There is one drawback to this trip: You won’t be back until Tuesday, which means you’ll miss the hometown fireworks.

Hmm. Okay, so here’s what you do. Just have the mayor announce you were called away on pressing foreign policy matters and how everyone knows you’d much rather be in Bakersfield than Budapest or London.

While the Burton codel is in Rome this weekend, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are taking a group of top CEOs to Tunisia and Egypt for three days. This is not Loop-recommended, for obvious reasons. Maybe in a few years.

A spot at the table

There have been rumblings that some German companies with huge investments in this country were unhappy they couldn’t snag seats at the June 7 White House state dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The dinner was much smaller than the 2009 India one, at which some 400 people — not including the Salahis — showed up. The Germans, who, best we can tell, were reasonably satisfied with their somewhat paltry allotment of about 25 tickets, did bring Hans-Peter Keitel, head of the Federation of German Industry.

But we’re told that, as in sports, the visiting team always gets the short end of tickets for fans. Usually it’s just the official delegation — in this case Merkel and top ministers — and a few other dignitaries who attend.

So German companies — the automakers, banks and even ThyssenKrupp, which just plunked down billions to build a steel mill in Alabama — were left out. (Of course, if you invite one industry mogul, then where do you draw the line?)

Leaders of American industries thus naturally fared much better, especially ones who have regularly contributed to Democrats for the past decade. And while there are always fat-cat donors at these events, the 16 $100,000-plus contributors, added to some smaller givers, nearly equaled the German contingent.

The industry figures included Google chief executive Eric Schmidt ($153,000 since 2000), as well as Dallas Obama bundlers Naomi Eberly and hedge-fund hubby Larry Lebowitz ($547,000 since 2000).

The hotel industry was represented by Silver Spring hotel executive and mega-Obama bundler Stewart Bainum and wife Sandra ($337,000), and Miami Beach real estate mogul Stephen Bittel and spouse Sabine ($523,000) came up to attend.

St. Louis building contractor and major bundler Robert Clark ($285,000) was on hand, and huge donor John Cooney of Chicago represented personal-injury lawyers — okay, not usually considered an “industry” as such, but he and his wife have given more than $550,000 to the D’s since 2000.

Musical chairs

Incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, confirmed Tuesday on a squeaker unanimous Senate vote, must have heard outgoing Secretary Bob Gates advising incoming CIA Director David Petraeus not to bring in outside help when he gets to Langley, lest he set up an “us vs. them” atmosphere ’mongst the clannish spooks.

Panetta is expected to bring along just Jeremy Bash, now his chief of staff at the CIA, to fill that same role when Panetta floats downriver to the Pentagon on July 1. But the key team at the Pentagon — Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn and Undersecretaries Ash Carter, Michele Flourney, Cliff Stanley and so on — will be staying.

Robert Rangel, now chief of staff to Gates, will be moving on. So will Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell, whose duties will be handled by the current assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Doug Wilson, until additional spokespeople are announced.

Marcel Lettre, former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who’s been in the Pentagon legislative shop and has been handling transition matters for Panetta, is expected to remain in the front office in a prominent role. Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly, who had been picked by Gates to be senior military assistant, is expected to play the same role for Panetta.

A Kodak moment?

Speaking of transitions, the saddest e-mail of the week came Tuesday afternoon from Amit Bagga, an aide to former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

To: Democratic Schedulers

Subject: Digital SLR Camera?

Does anyone have a digital SLR camera we can borrow for just a few minutes to take some photos of our office?

We’ll return it very promptly.

Master researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this column.

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP. (Also, our RSS feed, which had been broken, is now restored.)

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