The Washington Post

Obama’s second term: Hope, change, travel


How can you tell when a president is in his second term? One way might be the amount of time he spends abroad.

Second-term presidents, freed from the necessity of courting voters at home — and as they’re increasingly mindful of their legacies, eager to appear statesmanlike on the world stage — tend to travel overseas more frequently than first-termers.

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

And it seems President Obama is following the trend, with a slate of trips planned for this summer and fall.

There are the obligatory jaunts, such as the one June 17 to Northern Ireland for the Group of Eight summit and then on to Berlin on June 19 to speak once more at the Brandenburg Gate.

Then he’s off the next week to sub-Saharan Africa — where he spent only one day in his first term — on an eight-day swing to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from June 26 to July 3. Then there’s the trip to St. Petersburg for the obligatory Group of 20 summit for a couple of days in early September.

Then there will be some time off — maybe a couple weeks at Martha’s Vineyard — in August.

By our count, he made 18 overseas trips during his first term. So far he’s made two and is scheduled for a total of at least three more this year, so the pace has picked up.

It may accelerate.

“Presidents gravitate more to foreign policy, and foreign travel, in their second terms,” noted American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein. “Add to that the fact that in today’s dysfunctional world, it is easier for Obama to deal with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un” than with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

A Swiss Army defeat

The knife fight in the skies is over.

We reported last month on word that the Transportation Security Administration might put into effect TSA chief John Pistole’s plan to allow small pocketknives (blades under 2.36 inches long) on planes in order to move people faster through airport security.

The change, which would put the United States in line with rules in Europe, was to take effect April 25.

But an uproar from flight attendants, air marshals, some airlines and some members of Congress temporarily stalled the move.

A group of House members, led by Reps. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), then moved to definitively kill the proposal, calling it a “wrongheaded, dangerous, and irresponsible policy.”

They offered an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that would cut funds for any move to implement the TSA’s proposed changes.

Hours before the measure was to come up for a vote, TSA issued a statement saying that it would “continue to enforce the current prohibited items list for carry-on baggage,” which includes “small knives, novelty-sized and toy bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and golf clubs.”

Spooky real estate

Imagine doing yoga, sipping a pricey cocktail — or maybe just going to work — on the exact spot where some of Washington’s most highly classified business once took place. A little downward dog where there was once code-breaking?

That’s not an entirely unlikely scenario. The General Services Administration tells the Loop that it’s in the process of preparing the building near Nationals Park that housed top-secret CIA programs for redevelopment, in partnership with the real estate firm Forest City Enterprises. The GSA is working with Forest City to redevelop the old Southeast Federal Center, now known as the Yards, on land that was once part of the Washington Navy Yard.

“Redevelopment,” according to a Forest City spokesman, means demolition.

The building, Navy Yard Annex Building 213, has a storied history. It housed the National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency and its forerunner, the National Photographic Interpretation Center, which developed intelligence from satellite images. Don’t ask exactly what they did, because then, you know, they’d have to kill you.

(Oh, and apparently, the building was once known as the “Lundahl Hilton,” after CIA agent Arthur Lundahl , the National Photographic Interpretation’s founding director, a guy who located a few missiles in Cuba that turned out to be kind of a big deal.)

Fast-forward to today, with the corridor around Nats Park rapidly filling up with brewpubs and expensive apartments.

A Loop fan wrote that it appeared that the building, which the GSA took over in 2012, was being renovated. The GSA spokesman said that’s some “environmental remediation.”

After that’s done with, Forest City spokesman Gary McManus tells us, the building will be razed. The land will be turned into a parking area or a park until Forest City figures out what to build. The answer is likely to be an office building, given the site’s proximity to Metro.

So it’s possible that the only intel-gathering that will go on there now are gossip sessions over the water cooler.

Get well

Good vibes and positive thoughts can be in short supply in this town, but if you’ve got ’em, send ’em the way of Jesse Ferguson, the deputy executive director and communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who just received a cancer diagnosis.

Ferguson, who’s just 32, chronicled the finding of cancer in his head and neck in a newly created blog, in which he also says he’s taking time off from work to focus on his treatment.

We wish him a speedy recovery.

With Emily Heil

The blog: Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.


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