McCain gives Kerry a hard time about travel; but senator might want to keep his own count


Secretary of State John Kerry, center, boards his plane in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Sen. John McCain couldn’t help notice that his ex-colleague has done a lot of traveling since he left the Hill. (Kevin Lamarque/POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
Al Kamen
Columnist March 4

Seems Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has taken of late to smacking his “friend” Secretary of State John Kerry for being an overly frequent flier.

In November, McCain made some news.

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

“This guy has been a human wrecking ball,” he said of Kerry in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at the Washington Ideas Forum.

“They don’t know from one hour to the next where the plane is going,” McCain said. Washington’s Mideast policy “is in such disarray,” he added. “Fly into Riyadh and talk to the king of Saudi Arabia. Fly into Egypt and praise their steps toward democracy.”

Kerry reportedly called McCain after that blast and the two talked it over. We had hoped they had worked things out.

Apparently not. A couple of weeks ago, McCain renewed the criticism after Kerry spoke in Indonesia about climate change as “a weapon of mass destruction.”

“So he has to go over to Asia” and talk about that? McCain asked on Mike Broomhead’s Phoenix radio show, noting more immediate concerns Kerry should focus on, such as the massive carnage in Syria, Iranian nuclear ambitions and so on. He accused Kerry of “butterflying around the world,” asking: “Hello? On what planet does he reside?”

Yikes!

Well, we used to think substantial travel came with the job of being secretary of state. So let’s look at the travel data. According to the State Department’s Web site, Kerry took 20 trips abroad in 2013. Ten were to the Middle East. In addition, some of the European trips also involved negotiations on Mideast issues.

As it turns out, McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s investigations subcommittee, does a pretty solid amount of traveling himself, according to the Senate’s quarterly reports.

We counted 12 foreign trips by McCain in 2013. By way of comparison, that’s about twice as many as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top GOP member, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), took last year.

Like Kerry, half of McCain’s trips (six) took him to the Middle East. He also did an Asia swing through Japan, China, Mongolia and South Korea, and he made a trip to Ukraine.

McCain’s fact-finding trips, as we’ve often noted, are business, not boondoggles. But he and his accompanying staff have racked up more than a couple hundred thousand dollars in travel expenses — not counting the costs of any military jets.

We can safely assume Kerry’s trips on his plane are hugely expensive, but working on deals on Mideast peace, Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s nukes might be worth going an extra mile or two.

The chief difference, of course, is that while McCain can assess and investigate, Kerry has to do some very heavy lifting in a lot of difficult places.

In any event, this year’s looking pretty good on the travel front. Kerry was in super-tony Davos, Switzerland, in January for the World’s Greatest Gabfest (WGG).

Hey! So was McCain.

Border focus still intact

Before he took his place as a rank-and-file congressman, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) was the go-it-alone, illegal-immigrant-busting mayor of Hazleton, Pa., population about 25,000.

Hazleton, nestled in eastern Pennsylvania’s coal region, hit the national stage in 2006 when Barletta pushed through one of the nation’s strictest anti-illegal-immigration ordinances, including a provision that penalized landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants.

A lawsuit over the never-enforced statute has ping-ponged through the court system since then, with a Philadelphia-based federal appeals court most recently striking it down. On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear Hazleton’s appeal.

Barletta, now nationally well known (or infamous, depending on your perspective), rode chest-puffed to Congress on the 2010 Republican wave. He told the Loop on Monday that while he’s “very disappointed” in the high court’s decision, he will not give up his quest to weed out illegal immigrants.

“That’s the end of it,” Barletta said sourly about Hazleton’s embattled ordinance. Though he cited another federal appeals court ruling that upheld a similar law as a legal contradiction.

Congress has all but thrown in the towel on reconciling any immigration bill this year, but Barletta vows to continue to fight from the back benches. He’s now able to craft legislation, to save not just one town but the entire nation from “terrorists and drug dealers,” he says.

Which, he adds, is an “even bigger role than the role I had as mayor.”

Given the GOP need to attract Latino voters in 2014 and beyond, the party leadership may decide to relegate him to a cameo rather than center stage.

Family ties

One surefire way to get an issue in front of a congressional committee? Hire a lobbyist with the same last name as the chairman.

In the transportation world, the surname Shuster is as golden as Kennedy. So it’s little wonder companies looking to infiltrate Capitol Hill would turn to a law firm that employs a Shuster.

Last time we checked in with Robert Shuster — brother to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and son of Bud Shuster (known for unapologetically shoveling money at Pennsylvania public works projects when he chaired the same panel in the mid- to late 1990s) — he’d been hired by the town of Chevy Chase as a lawyer against the Purple Line light-rail project.

Now another of Robert Shuster’s clients has the undivided attention of brother Bill’s committee. The president of Canada Steamship Lines, which lobbying disclosure data tells us has hired Shuster to lobby Congress on its behalf, testified Tuesday before a T&I subcommittee.

The inland shipping operation opposes new Environmental Protection Agency fuel-emissions standards.

Shuster e-mailed us to say he’s had only “very limited” action with the steamship line and he told them, as he does with all clients, “that I do not and will not lobby my brother.”

But when transportation is the family business, it’s hard to imagine shipping issues aren’t the focus of dinnertime chatter around the Thanksgiving table.

— With Colby Itkowitz

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

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