In Columbus, a tougher ticket than the Michigan game


President Obama greets graduating students before the Booker T. Washington High School graduation ceremony May 16, 2011 at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, Tennessee. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Al Kamen
Columnist February 21, 2013

Good news for this year’s graduating class at Ohio State University: Your commencement speaker will be President Obama, who usually puts on a pretty good oratorical show — better than your average semi-famous alum spewing dry truisms.

The bad news: Great-aunt Doris might have to miss it.

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

An announcement Wednesday notifying seniors that they would get only four tickets each to the May 5 graduation exercises sparked low-level panic among students — at least among those who weren’t too busy studying (surely that’s what college seniors are up to, right?) to notice.

Usually, students may invite an unlimited number of guests to the graduation ceremony, which takes place in the university’s football stadium. But the presence of the president and the tightened security that accompanies him — plus, officials tell us, renovations at the stadium and a historically large graduating class that has resulted in greater demand — means all those great-uncles and cousins-twice-removed might not be able to attend the happy occasion.

A university spokeswoman tells us there might be additional tickets later, so students can have a few guests on standby.

We know of at least one would-have-been attendee (with a hotel room already booked) who was notified by her young relative via text message that she might be nixed from his guest list.

Let’s hope all the relatives still send checks.

Foreign aid wins a convert

When he was running for president in 2003 and 2004, then- Sen. John Kerry was giving speeches ripping into President George W. Bush for spending money overseas and allowing “a preparedness gap” in terms of the fight against terrorism.

“We should not be opening firehouses in Baghdad,” he told a crowd in a Roanoke fire station on Feb. 9, 2004, “and shutting them in the United States of America.”

But on Wednesday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville — about a two-hour drive from Roanoke — Kerry made a pitch for not cutting funds for foreign policy and overseas aid, noting that it’s only a bit more than 1 percent of the overall budget.

And “every embassy, every program that saves a child from dirty drinking water, or from AIDS, or reaches out to build a village, and bring America’s values, every person” comes out of that “one penny plus a bit, on a single dollar.”

So why do people criticize foreign aid spending and think it’s a quarter of the budget?

“Well, I’ll tell you,” he said, according to a State Department transcript, “It’s pretty simple. As a recovering politician [laughter] . . . I can tell you that nothing gets a crowd clapping faster in a lot of places than saying, ‘I’m going to Washington to get them to stop spending all that money over there.’ ”

Sounds as though he’s recovered pretty well.

Frequent-learner miles

When our colleague T.W. Farnam reported on all those “cultural exchange” trips that lawmakers and their staffs take, we couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous. The destinations — China, the Alps, Thailand — sounded fantastic, and the sightseeing, eating and souvenir shopping a blast.

So to whom should we direct our green-eyed gaze? Farnam tells us that the most-traveled staffers are two House aides who each have disclosed 13 trips over a six-year period.

Nice work if you can get it.

One, Arturo Estopinan, the D.C. chief of staff for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), has spent 109 days abroad on trips financed by foreign governments.

Ros-Lehtinen is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, so perhaps her staffers need a global perspective. “As chief of staff, I constantly deal with issues, cases and constituents that have an international aspect and therefore my role is similar to that of a staffer on the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Estopinan told Farnam in an e-mailed statement.

Estopinan is tied with Ed McDonald, the chief of staff for Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), whose jaunts Farnam chronicled in his in-depth piece on the cultural trips. McDonald has taken at least six trips to China.

“We need to be informed,” McDonald told Farnam. “As the congressman’s chief of staff, I’m his top policy adviser, so it’s important to learn about as many issues as I can.”

More about the jet-setting ways of Hill staffers, per Farnam’s reporting:

Records show that 23 senior staffers have taken three or more trips in one year from 2006 through 2011. They have disclosed at least 34 return trips to countries they’ve visited before.

Kristin Smith, an aide to former Montana congressman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), went on five trips in one year, spending 39 days in 2010 traveling to Korea, Taiwan, Jordan, China and Japan. Smith declined to comment, and Rehberg, who was on an Appropriations subcommittee dealing with foreign affairs at the time, did not return a request for comment.

Pinning it down

Quote of the day: “Guys, I will bone up on my wrestling and I’ll be back.”

Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, said that after admitting she hadn’t heard about the high-profile decision by the International Olympic Committee to eliminate wrestling from the games. She did, however, offer that she was aware that “our own wrestling team is — is in Tehran for the world’s wrestling something-or-other.” (That would the Wrestling World Cup, in which the Americans lost six of seven bouts to the Iranians on Thursday.)

With Emily Heil

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

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