The Hill-staffer shuffle


The Capitol’s dome is lit up on a foggy morning as the rehearsal for the Inauguration of President Obama gets underway on January 13, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
January 24, 2013

For hundreds of congressional staffers, it’s time to dust off the old résumé and pick up that interview suit from the cleaners.

There’s a bloodbath on Capitol Hill among Senate Republican staffers, stemming from a big turnover in committee leadership. Of 21 Senate committees, 13 have new ranking Republicans. And while the new bosses might keep some members of the old regime, many of them are being shown the door.

According to an estimate compiled for the Loop by LegiStorm, those committees with new GOP leaders employ 236 GOP staffers who could be looking for work.

That’s just part of the rough-and-tumble ecosystem on Capitol Hill, where Republican term limits enacted in 1997 have meant more staff turnover in the past decade, sometimes in spikes like this one. Often, the new boss’s agenda may be much different from his predecessor’s, or he simply arrives with a coterie of aides with whom he’s already comfortable.

No one said regime change was easy.

On many committees, the new ranking minority-party member is cleaning house. At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) has informed the panel’s professional staffers — who had worked under Richard Lugar (Ind.) — that all but three of the nearly 20 GOP aides will be let go. And those three may only be kept on temporarily, we hear.

On the Environment and Public Works panel, Sen. David Vitter (La.) kept only two staffers who had worked for his predecessor, Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.). Inhofe, in turn, is retaining only a small handful of those who worked on the committee whose gavel he now holds, Armed Services, under the previous ranking Republican, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

There’s movement elsewhere, too. On the House side, there are six new committee chairmen, meaning some staffers there are on the market. And Democrats can expect some churn, as well, though on a far smaller scale, since there’s less turnover among their Senate chairmen and House rankers.

It’s a jungle out there.

What committee?

It’s conventional wisdom that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will sail through the confirmation process to be secretary of state — though the Loop prefers the image of him windsurfing through the smooth waters of the Senate, since he famously enjoys that sport.

Still, there’s one tiny, procedural hiccup.

Seems some Senate committees have not yet been officially ratified for this Congress. That means that the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee can’t vote on Kerry — though the panel held a hearing on his nomination Thursday — until the Senate formally recognizes the committee.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who will take over the gavel from Kerry once the Massachusetts Democrat resigns the Senate to take the fancy new job, had to ask permission at the start of the Thursday hearing for the new committee members (including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul) to even take part in the proceedings, since they hadn’t officially joined the panel.

That’s typically a routine housekeeping matter, but it appears to be caught up in an unrelated debate, with sources saying it might wait until the debate over filibuster reform is settled.

Looks as though that’s expected to be cleared up soon, perhaps in time for a committee vote next week leading to a full Senate vote — after which Kerry will surely face far choppier seas in his new job.

Oh, the places they went

Astound your friends, dazzle your enemies! There’s a new interactive graphic on The Washington Post’s Web site that will tell you instantly more than you ever thought you wanted to know about the travel patterns of secretaries of state going back to James Baker.

Everyone knows that outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to more countries — 112, to be precise — than any of her five predecessors. And we all know that Condoleezza Rice traveled the most miles — 1,059,247.

But a more important measure may be the number of “visits” a secretary makes — which would exclude drop-ins and refueling stops and the like. Most all the secretaries had around 200 visits but Rice, with 240, leads the sextet, edging Madeleine Albright by three visits and Clinton by 20, according to data compiled by the State Department historian’s office.

Using that data, the graphic lets you ask your wonky pals things like: What South American countries have not been visited by a secretary of state since 1989?

Answer: Paraguay, Guyana and Suriname.

The graphic, developed by our colleagues Glenn Kessler and Emily Chow, also tells you why they went there and what they did on the trips. (And you can find the history of all secretaries’ travel to that country.)

But some caution is needed. For example, we find that Baker, the first secretary of state to visit Mongolia, went there twice. The first visit, in 1990, our colleague Walter Pincus noted at the time, included a trip to the Gobi Desert, allegedly to hunt Argali sheep, but that part was canceled by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. (Baker’s office said he was going to hunt goats and wouldn’t shoot the rare and protected sheep.)

So Baker had to return a year later to go hunting. The historian’s office says Baker “observed wildlife in the Gobi Desert.”

You can perhaps gauge U.S. diplomatic concerns and priorities by travel routes. For example, during the Bill Clinton administration, we can see that Warren Christopher went to Israel 34 times, Jordan 11 times and Syria 29 times. In contrast, neither Rice nor Clinton visited Syria, and Clinton went to Jordan just once.

Israel earned the most visits by far — 90. The runners-up were: Egypt (61); the United Kingdom (56); Belgium, home to NATO, (56); France (55); Germany (49); Syria (48); and Russia (47).

Correction: An earlier version of In the Loop identified Warren Christopher as secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter. He held that job during President Bill Clinton’s first term. Christopher’s travels were related to Mideast peace efforts, but not to the Camp David accords.

With Emily Heil

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.
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