Harry Reid’s high-stakes China gamble


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), left, is shown the way by Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan during a meeting at the Zhongnanhai leaders compound in Beijing April 20, 2011. (POOL/REUTERS)
Al Kamen
Columnist April 21, 2011

Details are slowly trickling out about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s secret, week-long trip to China with nine other senators. The lawmakers have given out minimal information about their itinerary because of supposed “security concerns.”

Last checked in, the intrepid congressional delegation (or codel) had paused in Hong Kong over the weekend, likely morphing into a shopping delegation (or shopdel).

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 next afternoon, to meet their stated goal of doing “site visits of American investments” in China, they took a ferry to . . . wait for it, wait for it . . . Macau, a tiny former Portuguese enclave where major Reid backer and Las Vegas gambling impresario Steve Wynn and other American casino operators have invested big-time — and profited enormously.

Wynn Macau is one of six casinos — MGM Resorts International and Sheldon Adelson’s Sands China are also there — allowed in the gambling mecca, the only place in China with legal gambling.

Anyone who’s seen a James Bond movie knows casinos are home to an evil assortment of bad guys, assassins and terrorists — even the entire Spectre headquarters. That’s why the group would have tried to blend in with other tourists — not an easy thing for 10 senators, 10 spouses, five staff members and assorted foreign service officers.

But the delegation (or crapsdel) made the perilous hour-long boat trip Tuesday without incident and arrived on time at the MGM Macau for a lunch sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce there.

Our invitation to the lunch, sent earlier this month to “AmCham Macau Members only,” says the U.S. consul general and other consulate staff members also will be at the two-hour lunch, making it “a great opportunity to sit down up close and personal for a private lunch with distinguished members of the U.S. Senate.”

To ensure a decent turnout, the invite said AmCham “members can bring along any friends who would like to meet with Sen. Reid and his delegation” for the “same admission fee” as all members’ friends. That’s only 200 MOP (Macau Patacas — really) or about $25 per person to get in, less than you’d pay for good seats to watch the Washington Nationals perform.

The Senate group included six other Democrats and three Republicans: Richard Shelby R-Ala.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) , Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

It’s unclear whether they stayed on for dinner at one of the restaurants Wynn and the others have brought to Macau, such as Joel Robuchon’s world-class French restaurant or Don Alfonso Iaccarino’s equally stunning Italian restaurant.

But they ate well, Reid told China’s Vice Premier Wang Qishan on Wednesday. Wang, whose government is in the midst of a major crackdown on dissident leaders, told Reid it was “a great pleasure for me to have an opportunity to meet 10 heavyweight U.S. senators,” according to Xinhua News Agency. “Such a formulation alone reflected the weight you place on China-U.S. relations,” Wang said.

“We may not have started this journey as heavyweights,” Reid joked, “but having spent two days in Hong Kong and Macau eating as we did, we are all heavyweights.” Indeed.

The last two cities on the trip are Xian and Chengdu in western China, but we don’t know in what order.

You have to wonder, though, if the trip is that dangerous, why would the senators allow their beloved spouses to risk their lives by tagging along?

In other Senate travels . . .

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’ s codel — which includes freshmen Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — after meeting with Korean President Lee Myung-bak this week and then heading to New Delhi, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and members of the Afghan parliament Thursday. (Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, though not part of the codel, also sat in.)

The quintet then returned to India, where, for security reasons, they had left their wives during the Afghan trip. They are making their way home from India.

Guam, the senatorial pit stop

It’s unclear whether the Reid and McConnell codels succeeded in making any friends in Asia, but they clearly managed to antagonize some folks even before they got to the mainland.

Seems Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo (R) is “livid” that neither the Reid nor McConnell codels — arriving in Guam about the same time last weekend for a refueling stop — bothered to meet with local officials.

“These U.S. senators, both Democrat and Republican, have decided to thumb their noses at the island and its government,” the governor said in a news release, according to the Guam Pacific Daily News. Calvo said using Guam as a “pit stop” is unacceptable.

Other local officials from both parties weighed in with similar statements.

From Iowa, potential history-making

If former Iowa first lady — and newly announced congressional candidate — Christie Vilsack manages to defeat incumbent GOP Rep. Steve King next year, she would make history in a number of ways.

She would be the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa. And she would, with her husband, former Iowa governor and now Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, join a select group of Washington power couples who have served simultaneously in the Cabinet and in Congress, our colleague Ed O’Keefe reports.

Elaine Chao, wife of then-Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was labor secretary during the Bush II administration. Elizabeth Dole, wife of former Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), was transportation secretary in the Reagan administration and labor secretary in the Bush I administration.

The Vilsacks would add a Democratic couple to that group.

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