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McCain praises Obama, just for a moment

By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 8:18 PM

Is a sense of mutual respect, maybe even some reconciliation, possible between the newly victorious Republicans and the Obama administration?

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaking Sunday at an international symposium in Halifax, Nova Scotia, offered strong praise for his erstwhile opponent.

McCain, fresh from his solid reelection victory, was asked whether President Obama would be the right person to deliver a "strong signal" to Iran that Washington stands firmly behind democracy and human rights in that country.

"I think the president . . . is entirely suited to give that message," McCain said. Obama's rise to become "president of the strongest nation in the world," he added, "is a remarkable story, and I think it's a shining example to people all over the world."

But McCain quickly got back on message: "It's a great success story," he said before he recovered and said that Obama is "also a person who is catapulted to a position of extreme - of enormous responsibility with very little background or experience in these issues."

Phew. That was close.

New game, first serve

The incoming chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), was on Fox over the weekend pledging fact-based investigations by his committee. That's a shame. So no more shooting cantaloupes?

"One of the problems we had in the previous two years was that we couldn't agree on what the facts were," Issa said, "therefore the conclusions were different - each side blamed the other - that's got to end." There goes the long-cherished constitutional right to your own facts.

But you can still enter the Loop Who Gets It First Contest, which lets you guess which federal agency or individual gets Issa's first subpoena.

To win our contest, simply predict which agency or person will get the first Issa subpoena and over what issue. As a tiebreaker, guess the month and day.

Please send your entry to firstsubpoena@washpost.com. As always, Hill and administration officials may submit entries on background. Those coveted In the Loop T-shirts will be awarded to the first 10 entrants with the correct answer. Please include a phone contact. Deadline for entries is Dec. 15. Don't delay!

The peerless Eric Holder

There's been for many years a chronically small pool of people able to serve on juries in D.C. Superior Court. It's been so bad in the past that even judges at the federal courthouse across C Street NW have served on local juries.

But it's clear that things have gotten even worse. Now they'll take just about anyone to serve. So there was Attorney General Eric Holder standing around in the hall Monday, waiting with the rest of the potential jurors summoned for questioning in Judge Robert Morin's courtroom. Morin was looking to impanel a jury to serve on a criminal trial.

Holder, a.k.a. Juror 604, didn't make the grade, however. But a point had been made. "See, even the attorney general of the United States comes in for jury duty," said the judge.

Holder, formerly U.S. attorney here and a former Superior Court judge, probably flunked that question about having any ties to law enforcement.

Taking the re- out of report

Speaking of facts, House Republicans, looking hard these days for potential cuts in wasteful federal spending, need not look too far. The State Department inspector general has a suggestion that could save tens of millions of dollars: Congress could stop asking embassies overseas for so many reports - more than 300 in fiscal 2010 - about all manner of issues.

"There is considerable overlap, redundancy and duplication among congressionally mandated reports," according to the IG's study, released Tuesday.

The study estimates that each embassy "spends an average of 1,400 person-hours every year on those reports and another 100 required by the department itself." The total cost is estimated at more than $50 million a year. And that's a conservative guess.

The instructions for these reports "are often overly long and detailed," the study concluded, and "the reports themselves have become encyclopedic in detail and length. In both instances, shorter would be better."

The IG study was sparked by complaints, especially from smaller embassies, that the constant demand for reports "imposes unduly heavy demands on limited personnel resources."

Maybe some lawmakers will support the IG's recommendations? After all, fewer and shorter reports theoretically would give lawmakers more time to work on more important matters - like fundraising. (Oh, wait: That would assume any member of the House or Senate actually reads the reports.)

Another reason to support the cutback is that fewer reports would mean embassies would have more time to focus on another critical function: the care, feeding and entertaining of members of Congress on "fact-finding" trips.

A June IG report , for example, noted that lawmakers and senior administration officials made almost 700 visits to the embassy in Islamabad in fiscal 2009, requiring hundreds of planning meetings and using more than 300 vehicles, plus drivers, note- takers, beds etc.

The embassy clamped down on administration officials but not on Hill folks, who, after all, control the embassies' budgets.

Home away from home

Everywhere you look these days - television, Internet - news organizations are putting out breathless "alerts" about just about everything from erupting volcanoes to new fashion trends in order to get your attention.

On Monday, the Associated Press put out a "Wire Alert" on the following dispatch:

"PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (AP) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is back on American soil after a marathon two-week trip to the Asia-Pacific . . . "

Of course, that patch of American soil was a mere 7,000 miles from here, but it did help explain that wave of relief and serenity we were experiencing just then.

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