Journalist’s notebook: With Congress out of session, lawmakers’ travel destinations speak volumes

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Oh, the places they’ve been…

What do legislators do when they are outside session may provide clues as to what Congress can do when it is in session.

Watch where they are going. It helps organize the narrative of what lawmakers want to talk about when Congress reconvenes.

Such is the case with the two-and-a-half-week April “recess” this year. Congress typically abandons Washington for an extended period in March or April — depending on when Easter and Passover occur.

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But first, a little housekeeping.

Congress is like any other institution in America. There are beasts of burden. MPs who work around the clock on behalf of their constituents and the nation. And, like everywhere else, there are also lazy people. Latecomers. Watchmakers. Those who hardly have the best interests of the country at heart.

The United States Capitol in December 2021.
(Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, file)

As they say, in the United States we enjoy “representative government”.

Thus, when Congress is in “vacation”, it’s not really a recreation. Sure. Some members use this time to reunite with family or even take vacations. They need a break like most others. But frankly, many lawmakers spend those long “recesses” working. They are back in their districts, huddling with their constituents, visiting machine shops, dairy farms, universities, attending religious ceremonies, talking to people at gas stations, walking picket lines .

The long period of time away from Washington is not really “free time”. And voters would surely come after lawmakers if they stayed in Washington all the time. Critics showed lawmakers had “gone native” and were now too deep “inside the Beltway.”

So during this break, members are buzzing from their home states and districts. They also travel the world on what are called, in short for Congress, the “CODEL”. It’s a Capitol Hill abbreviation for “congressional delegation” – often led by top Senate and House leaders or committee chairs.

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This is where the “recreation” part tells us a lot about what Congress will do when the members meet again.

For example, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., led a CODEL in Denmark, Germany, Poland and on the border with Ukraine. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., also led a group of lawmakers in Eastern Europe.

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Ukraine is in the foreground. Republicans have faulted the Biden administration for not taking more aggressive action against Ukraine — though Democrats have questioned what more the White House could have done. But the Ukrainian crisis is not going away. Congress is likely to approve further humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine by late spring or early summer. It means nothing to also release money to relocate Ukrainian refugees to the United States or abroad.

Members of the bipartisan Congressional delegation at the Ukrainian-Polish border on the weekend of March 4, 2022.

Members of the bipartisan Congressional delegation at the Ukrainian-Polish border on the weekend of March 4, 2022.
(Office of Representative Victoria Sparta)

Then word came that Rep. Victoria Spartaz, R-Ind. — originally from Ukraine — and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., traveled to Ukraine alone. The State Department discouraged its members from becoming independent and traveling to Ukraine alone.

Some GOPers have tried to blame the failure to approve CODELs in Ukraine on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Certainly, the speaker must sign all overseas CODELs – which, of course, must also be approved by the Department of State.

The State Department is unwilling to allow official travel to Ukraine out of concern for the safety of lawmakers. Fox learns that such a trip could put lawmakers at risk of injury or even capture. In addition, there are fears that in the event of an incident, diplomatic and military security officials could be put at risk to protect lawmakers or evacuate them.

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Fox spoke with at least one lawmaker who wanted to go with Sparta and Daines. But the member did not believe that the route they had taken was “safe”.

Another group of lawmakers hoped to visit Ukraine. But Fox learns they contracted COVID while on another CODEL in Eastern Europe.

We wrote in this space about the “Tuxedo” variant of COVID in Washington after the white-tie Gridiron dinner. Now, with infected members returning from overseas travels with each other, they may have the “CODEL” variant.

The coronavirus is not going away. This will remain a problem worldwide. This is compounded by surging cases among lawmakers and officials in Washington.

See, I told you what members do overseas during recess tells you a lot about what they’ll be dealing with when Congress resumes. Watch to see what the COVID numbers are among lawmakers when Congress resumes session next week.

But back to CODEL…

Some legislators wanted to go to Ukraine to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Others wanted to put the finger in the eye of the State Department – ​​which withdrew the diplomatic presence in Ukraine weeks ago.

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Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., noted that the United States never withdrew its diplomats from London during World War II and the Battle of Britain.

Pelosi was to lead a CODEL to Asia with a break in Taiwan during recess. But then the speaker tested positive for COVID. She was asymptomatic and tested negative a few days later. But Pelosi’s positive test canceled the trip. Lawmakers are connected to China and the potential steps it could take toward Taiwan in the coming months. Especially after Russia invaded Ukraine. Beijing is believed to be closely watching Moscow’s successes or failures in Ukraine and what approach it might possibly take with Taiwan.

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Another good indicator of what’s on Congress’ docket: the wave of lawmakers who have visited the US-Mexico border. Many lawmakers are heading to the border as the Biden administration suspends pandemic policy aimed at curbing illegal immigration across the border known as Title 42.

A Texas Department of Public Safety officer in Del Rio, Texas, last year led a group of migrants who crossed the border and surrendered.

A Texas Department of Public Safety officer in Del Rio, Texas, last year led a group of migrants who crossed the border and surrendered.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

MPs on both sides know the border crisis will become a key campaign issue this fall. That’s why vulnerable senses Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, and Maggie Hassan, DN.H., made their way to the border. McCarthy is also leading lawmakers on the border to challenge the administration’s decision to revoke Title 42.

We’ll likely learn of more overseas adventures from lawmakers in the coming days.

And then everyone will be back in Washington by the middle of next week.

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And what will lawmakers talk about?

Look at the places they’ve been.