In The Loop
In The Loop

Senators’ Chinese junket is shrouded in secrecy

Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) holds a news conference after the Senate voted for a budget continuing resolution at the U.S. Captiol March 2, 2011.

If it’s Passover, it must be Hong Kong. If it’s Easter, it must be Beijing. If it’s spring break, it must be a week-long jaunt by a large Senate delegation to China, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Ten senators, coming off a tough legislative session, plus spouses, staffers and military escorts, landed in the Middle Kingdom on Monday to begin a fine tour to Hong Kong, Chengdu, Xian and Beijing. The Senate news release calls it an “informational trip throughout China,” which Loop Fans know is a tip-off that this is going to be an excellent time.

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"Well, there goes the Easter weekend for the American Embassy in Beijing and the consulate employees that have to support this "fact finding" trips. What a waste of money."

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There will be “site visits of American investments and clean energy projects,” and they are going to discuss “the global economy, security, trade, currency and foreign policy.”

Yes, indeed. There will be no time for shopping in Hong Kong and hardly any time to tour the giant panda’s native habitat in Chengdu or see the ginormous Buddha at Leshan. Not a minute for the Terra Cotta Warriors in lovely Xian, a walled city and the gateway to the Silk Road.

They’ll be so rushed gathering facts, they won’t have a chance to see the wonderful mausoleum of the Western Han emperor Liu Qi and his wife, a site out by the Xian airport that in some ways is more interesting than the famed warriors. But they’ve got to eat, so a stop at that dumpling restaurant just outside the wall is a must. You can tell what’s inside the dumplings because they’re shaped like pigs, cows, ducks, etc. And forget the Great Wall.

The trip is called a “senior” Senate delegation because, in addition to Reid, second-ranking Democrat Dick Durbin (Ill.) and other major players are on board: Democrats Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Republicans Richard Shelby (Ala.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.).

Can’t say whether the delegation, to show Washington’s concern over human rights, will be celebrating Good Friday or Easter with any of the Christians in Beijing who’ve been arrested on recent Sundays in the latest Communist crackdown on religious groups.

We can’t say because, when we tried to get more details on the itinerary, we were told no more could be disclosed because of “security concerns.” Over the years this arrant foolishness has become a major dodge to hide what lawmakers are going to be doing no matter where they travel abroad. (More details are released after the trips, but usually not complete itineraries.)

China, after all, is generally about as dangerous as McLean. The only security threat in Xian might be if one of the Terra Cotta guys came alive, yelled “Hey! It’s Jeff Merkley!” and smacked him upside the head.

Fellow travelers

At least 17 (that’s seventeen) senators are in Asia this week. (Surely others must be headed to St. Peter’s Square, no?)

In addition to the Reid delegation, there’s a five-member group led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on a week-long trip stopping in South Korea to discuss trade matters and then going on to some other to-be-disclosed destinations.

McConnell is joined by GOP Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Mike Johanns (Neb.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.). Spouses will be on the fine military jet but may not be going with the lawmakers to all locations.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), after a private trip in the region with his wife on his own dime, meets Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) in Hong Kong. Webb, on a two-week tour starting in South Korea and Vietnam, joins Levin for a trip to Guam, Okinawa and Tokyo. This has to do mainly with issues involved in moving the Marines from the base in Okinawa to a new facility in Guam under a recent relocation deal with the Japanese. Unclear whether Webb’s wife is traveling on the earlier parts of the trip.

And now, the winners

And now, the winners of the In the Loop Naming Opportunities contest for 2011. This was to rename Iraqi streets, towns, rivers and such, or places at the sprawling U.S. Embassy there to honor American officials for their efforts in that country in recent years.

1. “Bed, Baath and Beyond Boulevard,” submitted by Marty Siegel, a retired Coast Guard civilian employee from Alexandria.

2. “Known Knowns Avenue, with a cross street named Known Unknowns,” which would yield “Known Knowns Known Unknowns Square,” submitted by Steve Hein, marketing director at a military services organization.

3. “The Dick Cheney ‘Welcome Liberators Arch,’ which serves as the majestic back entrance to the new open-air Baghdad public shooting range.” Submitted on background by a Senate Republican aide.

4. “Bremer Bridge to Nowhere — a sister bridge to that great American symbol in Alaska.” Submitted by federal employee Martin O’Connor of Round Hill, Va.

5. “The Bush Hanging Gardens, featuring the Wolfowitz Water (Boarding) Slide and the Douglas Leap of Feith bungee jump (you keep going up and down).” Submitted on background by a career Foreign Service officer from Maine.

6. “Lockheed Martin Northrup Grumman Boeing Raytheon Rockwell Dynamic Plaza,” submitted by Carroll Publications news editor Matt Neufeld of Greenbelt.

7. There were many entries focused on former CIA director George Tenet’s unfortunate “slam dunk,” used in describing to our colleague Bob Woodward the likelihood of Saddam’s having WMD. The judges were divided on which entry to pick, but we liked a small side street that could be called “Slam Dunk Court,” submitted by John Nemeth, a research analyst for the federal government.

8. And there were many entries riffing off “cakewalk.” The judges liked the “Dr. Ken Adelman Cakewalk Way,” submitted by Michael Doyle, a reporter in the McClatchy Newspapers bureau here, in honor of Adelman’s prediction that the Iraq invasion would be a “cakewalk.”

9. The Iraq University gym’s exercise and weight-loss equipment could be named the “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” suggested Steven Koenig of Fortaleza, Brazil.

10. “Richard Perle Gateway,” submitted by Navy civilian employee Harvey Kipper of Arlington.

Other fine entries that didn’t make the cut included an Iraqi soccer stadium named “Curveball Coliseum,” with a scoreboard that can fabricate numbers more to your liking, and “Bring ’Em On Boulevard.”

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all for entering. A special thanks to our judges, Washington Post master researcher Lucy Shackelford and graphics guru Karen Yourish.

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