Politicians have their own March madness as they race to raise funds

College basketball’s March Madness continues into April, but for politicians playing in their own March competition, their game ended Monday with a Hail Mary shot to beat the buzzer.

At the end of each fundraising quarter, inboxes are cluttered with contribution pleas with either dire warnings (“The need is urgent,” “Your help today is critical”) or promises of a great time away with a lawmaker for a bargain price of, say, $2,500.

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

Monday morning, President Obama himself e-mailed supporters offering some straight talk — he doesn’t want to deal with a Republican-led Senate in his final two years in office. Without your $250 contribution by midnight, “the same Republicans who held our country hostage with endless obstruction” could take over.

A Republican challenger in West Virginia, Evan Jenkins, is running for the House against vulnerable Democratic incumbent Nick Rahall. Jenkins let supporters know Friday that their donation by the March 31 deadline would really stick it to Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

And Democratic pundit James Carville asked for a modest $25 to counter attacks against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), mentioning something about Scott Brown, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers wanting to tango. In another plea Monday morning, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) requested only $5 “or whatever makes sense to you” to help his friends keep the Senate (he just won in 2012, so his need is less desperate).

As Brown illustrates, not all the donation requests are intensely ­anxiety-ridden. Take Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who recently hosted people (at $1,500 each) in Sun Valley, Idaho, for “Family skiing and Fun!” and time with her and a special guest, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). We’re not convinced Barrasso is an especially compelling draw, but the enclosed outdoor swimming pool and spa treatments sound nice.

Speaking of draws, former House speaker Newt Gingrich sent an e-mail Monday morning asking supporters a question impossible to say no to: “Want to grab a sandwich?” A donation to the national Senate campaign arm puts you in the running for lunch with Newt, where the conversation, we presume, will range from moon bases to zoo animals.

An envoy under fire . . .

Most folks in this country probably don’t know much about Bahrain. It’s only about 293 square miles (a little over four times the size of the District) and is home to about 1.3 million people.

But it is strategically located just 150 miles across the Persian Gulf from Iran. The Navy’s 5th Fleet is headquartered there, and the country lets the United States use two major airfields. Then there’s the $1.4 billion in annual military sales to the kingdom.

On the other hand, there are the violent demonstrations by majority Shiites against the Sunni monarchy for the past three years.

Balancing human rights concerns and military cooperation with the government makes for a tricky diplomatic task.

So when Abdullatif al-Mahmood, head of the National Unity Assembly (a group that’s part of a Sunni-oriented pro-
government political federation), demands the “immediate” recall of U.S. Ambassador Tom Krajeski, as the Gulf Daily News reported Monday, attention perforce must be paid. And when the demand results from a quite negative State Department inspector general’s report, even more attention might be forthcoming.

The report last week dinged Krajeski for, among other things, “his lack of access to some key government officials, his poor media image, and the lack of an effective strategy to address these issues have created friction with principal officials in Washington.” And there’s his “disdain for planning.”

At a briefing Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said officials were “reviewing the report” and would respond formally to the IG. She said State agreed “with some of the recommendations” in the report and “we disagree with others.” She also praised Krajeski, a 35-year Foreign Service veteran and former ambassador to Yemen, as “qualified, highly capable.”

“We have full confidence in his leadership,” Harf said.

In a response to our inquiry regarding the National Unity Assembly’s demand for a recall, Harf, in an e-mail, repeated the department’s “full confidence in Ambassador Krajeski” and added: “We don’t expect that to change at all.”

. . . and another already gone

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell announced her resignation Monday after two years on the job, sparking speculation overseas that the administration may have been looking to replace her.

Powell arrived in India in April 2012, and these diplomatic posts often last three years.

The buzz in New Delhi is that Powell’s departure may be related to tensions over the uproar in India after the arrest in New York of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian diplomat, on charges of falsifying visa documents for her maid/nanny and then lying to investigators about what she was paying the domestic worker. The January arrest, during which Khobragade was strip-searched, was condemned by the Indian government, and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was held accountable.

Powell will be leaving as India’s month-long election comes to an end and the country’s next prime minister is chosen.

A senior administration official, acknowledging that Powell is leaving her post at the end of May, said in an e-mail to the Loop, “I assure you that it is in no way related” to the Khobragade affair and added that her decision “was not unexpected.”

And at a briefing Monday, Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, strongly denied that Powell’s resignation was anything but a 37-year career diplomat retiring after serving in posts all over the world, including ambassadorships in Pakistan, Nepal and Uganda. “All the rumors and speculation are, quite frankly, totally false,” Harf said.

Powell’s decision to leave “is in no way related to any tensions,” Harf said. “There’s no big behind-the-scenes story here.”

— With Colby Itkowitz

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

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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