Sen. Marco Rubio has a few questions about Qatar — including how to pronounce it

Before Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) launched into a series of questions about the Taliban Five, he needed a little assist from President Obama’s nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Qatar.

Exactly how do you pronounce the country hosting the released prisoners?

“Okay, well, how would I say it? Help me,” Rubio said to Dana Shell Smith, a career Foreign Service officer.

Smith offered him the Arabic way, then an American way. The correct pronunciation of Qatar could come in handy during 2016 presidential debates, so Rubio was wise to jump on this.

Smith was a late addition to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing on Wednesday, ostensibly because lawmakers wanted to ask about the May 31 Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, and because if there is going to be a change in ambassadors, it’s probably an important time to get that moving.

Smith assured Rubio that when she gets to Qatar, monitoring the five Guantanamo Bay detainees who were traded for Bergdahl will be at the “very top of my list of priorities.”

“And we will be assessing continuously every day — every morning when I wake up, every night when I go to sleep — to reassess whether these people pose any threat whatsoever to our national security,” she said.

Rubio pressed on, asking about the precedent the prisoner exchange sets. Smith said she wasn’t qualified to address that. Rubio asked whether Americans abroad are now at greater risk. Smith said the security of diplomats is always something to be concerned about. Which led Rubio to mention Benghazi and the terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post there. He asked Smith about security at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar.

“It’s a constant give and take; it’s a constant conversation,” she said. “And I think it’s probably best to leave it at that.”

Close call

A Democratic Hill staffer had just one simple request: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s digits.

Buzzfeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro was leaked an e-mail circulated to Democrats Thursday morning. The note was sent from a staffer for Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). Cohen’s director of operations, wrote in the subject line: “Phone number for Hillary Clinton,” and then framed it as a question in the body: “Does anyone have a good phone number for Hillary Clinton?”

In 2008, Cohen was a Barack Obama supporter. One might recall that he compared Clinton to the vengeful Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and drew the ire of women’s groups. He apologized.

We had so many questions. It’s a good bet that the congressman himself hoped to reach Clinton. But why? And more important, did he get her number? And can we have it, too?

Ben Garmisa, Cohen’s spokesman, would not provide any information about the Clinton call. But he did let us know that staffers “regularly” reach out through the Hill’s internal system seeking contact information for reporters and public figures. His office’s request, he said, is “not uncommon.”

Turn for the verse

Back in the days of the Russia “reset,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued statements on Russia’s National Day on June 12, emphasizing warming relations.

In 2010 and 2012, she noted the country’s “rich history” and culture. Clinton then quickly pivoted to talk about “building a new partnership” and all the “progress in areas of common concern” between the United States and Russia, including reducing nuke stockpiles and stopping proliferation and terrorism.

In 2010, Clinton was “confident that our renewed relationship will continue to grow deeper and broader” and sent “warmest wishes for a peaceful and prosperous year to come.”

In 2012, she referred to “the progress we have made together,” noting U.S. support of Moscow’s “effort to join the World Trade Organization.”

But this year, there was a chill in the air and no talk of policy matters.

In Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s perfunctory five-sentence note on Wednesday, he wanted “to pause today and appreciate the great works of Russian literature, music and art that have touched so many people around the world.” He celebrated “the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mikhail Lermontov,” the great Russian poet, then poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin and poet Anna Akhmatova. (Hey! No Tolstoy? Dostoevsky?)

What about mutual cooperation? And “warmest wishes?”

“May the Russian and the American people share in a peaceful, stable and prosperous future,” Kerry concluded.

What? Was it the annexation of Crimea? Saber-rattling in eastern Ukraine? Something Vladi­mir Putin said?

All the best, Vlad

The Kremlin announced Thursday that President Vladimir Putin “warmly congratulated” sky-diving former president George H.W. Bush “on his 90th birthday and wished him health and prosperity, noting his personal contribution to the development of the Russian-American relations.”

“Yes, they spoke at 2 p.m.,” a Bush spokesman confirmed to Business Insider. “President Putin also sent a portrait. . . . It is a portrait of President Bush as a young Navy ensign in his dress whites.”

Mass., N.H., whatever . . .

Scott Brown’s New Hampshire Senate campaign sent a news release Wednesday questioning why Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) wasn’t appearing with President Obama while he was “in town.”

But Obama was in Worcester, Mass., about 50 miles from the New Hampshire border. The president will then visit Boston to raise money for Senate Democrats.

Brown’s hometown is Wakefield, Mass. And for one term, he served the state as its U.S. senator. He moved to neighboring New Hampshire to challenge Shaheen.

When asked what constitutes being “in town,” Brown campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton said the statement itself clarified that Obama was “in New England.” Guyton reiterated that Shaheen “wasn’t there, even though the money raised at the event will be used to prop up her race.”

The Senate is in session and had votes scheduled on a health-care bill for veterans and student-loan legislation. Shaheen also attended the state delegation’s fifth annual New Hampshire reception on Capitol Hill in the evening.

Pro-tip for the Brown camp: When your aim is to endear yourself to a new constituency, suggesting that your old and new states are one and the same (it’s all New England, we guess) may not be politically wise.

— With Colby Itkowitz

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

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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