By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 7:44 PM
It's the first overseas congressional delegation (codel) of the new Congress!
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is off Friday to lead a codel (of two senators) on a week-long, five-country swing to Latin America, stopping in Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Panama, the country of his birth.
McCain, who's been the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will be joined by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who's been ranking GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Latin America. They'll focus on drug violence in Colombia and Mexico and anti-poverty campaigns in Brazil during the trip. No spouses traveling.The rules
Speaking of codels, about one-fifth of the House and Senate are newcomers to the peculiar ways and temptations of life here in River City. They will soon discover the last remaining vestige of bipartisanship on the Hill - overseas travel on the taxpayer dime.
But the temptation to take a junket with that long-suffering spouse - that fine fact-finding trip to exotic places on a military jet with all manner of pampering - is enormous. The risk is that, despite your absurd claims that security concerns require a secret itinerary - the press sometimes finds out where you've gone. And this can lead to most unwelcome publicity.
So, for travelers who want to avoid snarky press coverage, we offer, as we did when the Democrats took over the Hill in 2007, an updated version of the official In the Loop Guide to Codels.
Rule No. 1: Try to travel to places that have a direct relationship to important foreign policy issues. In addition to such places as Pakistan, India, China and Russia, this would be Darfur and Haiti anytime, Gaza in August, or Waziristan (north or south) in the early spring when the fighting picks up.
Exception: Voters are becoming wise to the shallowness of lawmakers doing quickie trips to Afghanistan, having pictures taken with the troops from their districts - troops rounded up specially for the occasion - and given guided tours so they can thump their chests and say, "I've been to Kabul."
Rule No. 2: Ditch the spouse. Spouses raise red flags for reporters. Reporters are no longer buying the dodge about spouses traveling "at no extra cost." Understaffed embassy personnel have to schedule separate events and provide vans, maybe security, guides and so forth for day trips, sightseeing and shopping. Given chronic understaffing at U.S. embassies, this is hardly what those folks need to be doing.
Corollary: On a generic "meetings with foreign leaders" trip, avoid lingering. Spouses tend to lengthen trips, with evenings devoted to receptions and dinners - as opposed to meeting with dissidents in hiding, with human rights advocates, with harassed religious leaders, with refugees.
Rule No. 3: Avoid going north in the summer, south in the winter. Never go anywhere in Italy, at any time, on the taxpayers' dime. European travel in general, especially in the early fall or in the spring, will raise eyebrows. Winter trips to the Caribbean are inherently suspect.
Rule No. 4: Do not go to various wonders of the world - Petra, the pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, Iguazu Falls, the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat or African game parks. Ditto handicraft fairs.
Exception: There will be times when obligatory travel to bad places, or to funerals and inaugurations and such, will bring you near a primo tourist destination. The rule of reason governs. An "unavoidable" stop at St. Peter's Square on Easter Sunday, for example, doesn't pass any laugh test.
Rule No. 5: Do not blow off intelligence briefings at the embassies. You are there, after all, to gather facts. Embassy folks may, or may not, have some.
Rule No. 6: Do not overload your military aircraft with the bargain booty - rugs, golf clubs, artifacts and such - that you hope to sneak in without regular customs inspection.
So under these criteria the McCain trip - despite a southern destination in winter and a most suspicious stop in Rio to talk poverty - appears to pass muster. No spouses. Too many countries in too few days. Rio stop is to assess military efforts in the lawless favelas. And besides, McCain takes this stuff a bit too seriously.Loosely constructed
The House on Thursday gamely maneuvered through a reading of most of the Constitution by deciding, despite some objections, that members would simply ignore the most embarrassing parts originally written by the wise Founding Fathers - the stuff about counting a slave as three-fifths of a person, and requiring that slaves brave and lucky enough to have escaped to freedom had to be returned. Ditto the amendment prohibiting booze and other boring and tedious scheduling provisions that were later revised.
The lawmakers also discovered that the document wasn't long enough to give all members a chance to read something, so the remaining representatives present were just out of luck. And no one bothered to tell everyone to bring the NoDoz. There were 30 Republicans and 12 Democrats left by the time the 27th Amendment was read, about 90 minutes after the ordeal began.
Let's hope they don't do this every day.O'Reilly? Oh, really?
The pro football playoffs begin this weekend, but Fox Sports is already making sure there'll be solid television ratings no matter what teams make it to the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.
That's because conservative Fox News host Bill O'Reilly will be interviewing President Obama during the pregame show, the White House confirmed Thursday.
When other networks broadcast the game in Obama's first two years in office, NBC had host Matt Lauer (2009) conduct the sit-down, and Katie Couric handled it last year for CBS.
O'Reilly, who interviewed Obama during the presidential campaign in 2008, believes he gave Obama the toughest interview of anyone during that election. Unclear whether he'll be that tough this time around.