The State Department is no Donald Trump

Al Kamen
Columnist February 8, 2012

Back in 1999, we bitterly opposed the sale of the spectacular Chelston estate, the residence of the U.S. consul general in Bermuda.

“The absolutely perfect diplomatic appointment, the one we’ve dreamed of for years, is about to be diminished forever,” we wrote then.

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

The job requires no heavy lifting — Bermuda’s population is less than 70,000 — and you don’t need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Sure, you’re not going to be called “Mr. Ambassador” or be able to use “The honorable” before your name (although some people do).

Even so, mega-contributors such as Bob Farmer , a former Democratic National Committee finance chairman, have coveted the post for years, in part because of the splendor of the seaside manse: a 10,000-square-foot main house with three guest cottages and a staff cottage — 15 bedrooms and 19 bathrooms in all.

You get private beaches, terraced gardens, amazing water views and a huge swimming pool on the 14-acre estate. Did we mention the wood-burning pizza oven?

And the only thing you’ve got to do is throw a Fourth of July party and invite about 3,000 people. (Must be a big oven.)

And you play host to lots of guests. These reportedly have included President George H.W. Bush , Vice President Dan Quayle , Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), former senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), former secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and Henry A. Kissinger, and actress Brooke Shields .

But, in a fit of budgetary zeal, the State Department sold it anyway, for a lousy $12 million, and moved the consul general to a virtual bungalow in town with no views.

Bad enough to shatter our dreams, but then, browsing Tuesday’s edition of the island’s online paper, the Royal Gazette, we were stunned to see this: “A former home of the U.S. consul general has been put up for sale with a $45 million price tag.”

Nearly four times what the State Department sold it for? Next time maybe they’ll listen. Probably not.

Wining, dining, pipelining

Rep. Louie Gohmert , patron saint of amorous wildlife? The Texas Republican, who’s not known as a champion of animal rights, says his primary concern in the development of a massive Alaskan oil pipeline is the love lives of the caribou surrounding the project.

Gohmert launched into a lecture during a House Natural Resources Committee meeting last week about the need to protect the poor caribou. But here’s the catch: The evil force against which he wants to defend the creatures is the halting of the flow of oil through the pipeline. That, he says, would be akin to throwing cold water on what sounds like a randy spring-break party happening among Alaska’s caribou population.

It seems that Gohmert is something of an expert on animal husbandry. Here’s his theory: The caribou very much enjoy the warmth the pipeline radiates. “So when they want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline,” he informed his colleagues. It’s apparently the equivalent of being wined and dined. And that has resulted in a tenfold caribou population boom, he concluded.

“So my real concern now . . . if oil stops running through the pipeline . . . do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?” he asked.

Gohmert’s faux concern for the furry creatures earned him some titters from fellow committee members. Even Rep. Don Young , who was seated at his elbow, could barely contain his laughter. The Alaska Republican — who we can assume is a bit more knowledgeable about caribou than his colleague from Texas — wasn’t entirely convinced that Gohmert knew what he was talking about.

“I’m not sure it’s warmth of the pipeline,” Young weighed in.

Gohmert was adamant in his theory. “It sounds like they need the pipeline,” he said.

Maybe they gather there because they can’t go over it or under it?

Home run for Dems?

Senate Democrats have apparently found a way to generate excitement for what’s usually a dry program focused on messaging and policy: Hold it at a fun locale.

We hear that the Senate Dems’ retreat this week — a regular event typically held in dull conference rooms in less-than-hotels in cities such as Baltimore or Williamsburg — will instead probably take place at Nationals Park.

Batter up!

Between sessions on legislative strategy and the like, senators might get a chance to stroll the facilities and check out the digs that favorites such as pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman call home. Nats Park is available for rent on non-game days, according to the team’s Web site, and visiting groups can even spring for extras such as a visit by Screech, the Nationals’ mascot, and on-field batting practice.

The livelier setting seems to be stirring more enthusiasm than these events typically get — even spouses, we hear, are clamoring to come.

Still, Senate Democrats are probably hoping their strategy session yields them better results than the lowly Nats, who haven’t managed to finish a season above .500.

Return of Olympia beer

When you think about Sen. Olympia J. Snowe , what comes to mind? Impeccable suits, perhaps, or moderate policies . . . but definitely not beer.

The Maine Republican revealed an entirely new side recently, when she took to the Senate floor to sing the praises of suds. Meet Olympia Snowe, beer booster.

But don’t look for her to chug some of Milwaukee’s finest, or to profess her affection for the taste of the Rockies — she’s into Maine brews, natch. Snowe took time to praise Portland’s Bull Jagger Brewing Co., a microbrewery that she called a small-business success.

“This small firm’s attention to detail and initial success demonstrates the remarkable quality of their product,” she raved.

A spokesman tells us she hasn’t sampled the goods herself. “I’m sure she would look forward to tasting a sample sometime and hearing more about the continued success of this great Maine company,” he said. 

During her Senate floor tribute, Snowe displayed an impressive knowledge of beermaking, praising Bull Jagger for filling a need in Maine’s brew market. “While larger breweries all produce lagers, most microbreweries shy away from lagers because of the increased length of brewing time in comparison to ales,” she said.

Bottoms up, Senator.

New agency heads

The White House this week named a new batch of nominees to agency jobs.

President Obama tapped Bill Baer , who chairs the antitrust practice for Arnold and Porter, to be the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Marcilynn Burke was nominated to assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department. She is currently the acting assistant secretary. Joseph Jordan, a senior adviser to Office of Management and Budget acting director Jeffrey Zients , was selected to be OMB's administrator for federal procurement policy.

And Obama nominated John Norris to another term as a commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Norris was first named FERC commissioner in 2009.

With Emily Heil

Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this column.

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

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