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Mitt Romney’s entourage problem

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Even before Mitt Romney was wheels-up for London, the presidential challenger’s overseas trip was drawing comparisons to the one taken by Barack Obama in 2008.

Both were candidates looking to appear presidential and polish up their foreign policy credentials.

But where the Democrat’s trip was smooth sailing (save a kerfuffle about a canceled visit with wounded troops), the Republican’s voyage has been laden with cringe-inducing gaffes.

So, what’s the difference — other than four years and two vastly different politicians? Here’s one big distinction: The Obama campaign loaded up on staff firepower while the Romney camp had a relative skeleton crew.

Our colleague Philip Rucker noted the disparity in his story on Friday (in which he reported that Romney was looking for a “breakout moment” in Israel that would salvage the trip — a hope that wasn’t borne out this week when the GOP candidate managed to infuriate Palestinians).

“When Barack Obama traveled overseas as a candidate in 2008, it was an all-hands-on-deck event. . . . By contrast, Romney’s top political advisers stayed home,” Rucker reported.

Just how lopsided were the staffs? We dug around for the rosters.

For his trip, Obama got assists from at least 14 top staffers and advisers, many of whom were heavy hitters with serious foreign policy and economic credentials. They included former national security adviser Tony Lake, former deputy national security adviser James Steinberg, former White House and State Department official Greg Craig , former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice , former National Security Council staffer Ivo Daalder , longtime diplomat and State Department official Dennis Ross , former Navy secretary Richard Danzig , former undersecretary of commerce Robert Shapiro , retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration , senior foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough , foreign policy speechwriter Ben Rhodes, chief strategist David Axelrod, communications director Robert Gibbs, and spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Romney, on the other hand, has only three senior staffers with him for the entire trip: policy director Lanhee Chen, foreign policy aide Alex Wong, and press secretary Andrea Saul.

Romney supplemented the trio at stops along the way. In London, former senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey met the gang; in Israel, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Dan Senor hopped on board; chief strategist Stuart Stevens joined for the Israel and Poland legs; and former deputy assistant secretary of defense Ian Brezinski came to Poland.

Lest anyone question the power of staffing . . .

Baby steps

Bipartisanship lives on the Hill?

The House on Tuesday evening passed a measure to improve the clogged confirmation process for presidential appointees by eliminating the Senate-approval requirement for 169 jobs.

The positions in that category, such as assistant secretaries for public affairs or for administration or management, are ones that rarely spark partisan battles.

The Senate has already changed its rules to place 270 or so other jobs in a “streamlined” category where, if no senator objects, the nominee would bypass laborious committee hearings and go to the Senate floor for a vote.

That second category includes jobs such as chief financial officers or assistant secretaries for legislative affairs at various agencies.

All told, those actions, which also affect some 3,000 members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Services Corps, would streamline or reduce confirmation requirements for about 30 percent of the positions now needing committee hearings and Senate floor votes.

“The legislation is going to benefit whoever is our next president,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, who helped lead the effort to reform the broken confirmation process.

“The next president will have his team in place much faster,” Stier predicted. “We need to move from the stagecoach to the e-mail world to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) backed the measure, the product of an active bipartisan effort from Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and top committee Republican Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). It passed last summer on a vote of 79 to 20.

The House, which of course has no role in the confirmation process, had been expected to promptly follow suit. Then President Obama’s recess appointments in January infuriated Republicans and may have soured the mood for passing the bill.

But perhaps the tight polls and a possible Romney presidency in January — in addition to the prospect of doing something about the mess known as the confirmation process — apparently proved enough Tuesday to overcome any misgivings.

Are you #winning?

A tweet is only 140 characters — and yet it can say so much.

Don’t forget to send your entries to the Loop’s contest to suggest what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintons debut tweet should be. The deadline for submission is midnight Friday.

We noticed that Clinton had racked up an impressive social-media following despite never having tweeted. So we figured we’d enlist Loop fans to help craft her first missive to the twitterverse.

The question: WSHT? (As in “What should Hillary tweet?”) Keep your submissions to the Twitter-standard 140 characters, plz, and send them to intheloop@washpost.com. Be sure to provide your name, profession, mailing address, and what size T-shirt (adult M, L or XL) you’d like if you’re a winner. You may enter “on background” if you like.

The 10 best entries each win one of those coveted Loop shirts.

With Emily Heil

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

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