Foreign Travel by Members of Congress (Part II)

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Category: Constitutional Law, International Law & Diplomacy, Public
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As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been writing an article on the subject of international diplomacy by members of Congress, with an emphasis on congressional delegations (“CODELs”) to foreign countries. Information about CODEL practice has been pretty limited, so one of my purposes has been simply to provide a more complete account of how frequently CODELs travel overseas, who is participating, where they go, and what they do when they get there. To do so, I collected information from the State Department cables that Wikileaks released to the public in 2010-11, many of which provide detailed accounts of meetings between members of Congress and foreign governments. I also collected information from official reports on publicly and privately financed congressional travel. Some of the reports were published in the Congressional Record pursuant to federal statute; others were published in accordance with House and Senate ethics rules. The data is quite voluminous, so I focused only on travel that happened in 2009—the most recent year for which the available information is the most complete. Counting each country visit by each legislator as one trip, and adding the data from the various sources, I came up with the following.

A total of 420 federal legislators, or approximately 79% of the combined membership of the House and Senate, completed slightly more than 2000 trips abroad in 2009. Members of the House were responsible for 84.5% of this travel, for an average of 4.0 trips per member, while members of the Senate were responsible for 15.5%, for an individual average of 3.2 trips. Legislators from both parties participated in comparable measure: Democrats averaged 4.09 trips per legislator, while Republicans averaged 3.56.

Legislators engaged in diplomacy unevenly. While some never went abroad even once, fifty-four legislators made at least 10 foreign trips during the year; the most frequent fliers were Eni Faleomavaega (24 trips) (D-AS), Jim McDermott (21) (D-WA), Adam Smith (17) (D-WA), Gabrielle Giffords (16) (D-AZ), Sheila Jackson-Lee (16) (D-TX), Lindsey Graham (15) (R-SC), Gregory Meeks (15) (D-NY), Jeff Miller (15) (R-FL), Solomon Ortiz (15) (D-TX), Dana Rohrabacher (15) (R-CA), and Joe Wilson (15) (R-SC). By comparison, Secretary Clinton made 51 trips to foreign countries over the same period.

Legislators traveled widely. CODELs visited at least 117 countries in 2009. The most frequent destinations were Afghanistan (139 trips), Israel (134), Kuwait (119), United Arab Emirates (86), Germany (73), Iraq (72), Pakistan (53), Jordan (49), Belgium (47), and Italy (47). An overwhelming majority of this travel was publicly funded.

Finally, members of congressional committees with jurisdiction over foreign affairs and related matters were more likely to participate in CODELs than other legislators. For example, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, averaged 6.89 trips per member, while the House Administration Committee averaged only 2.33. Similarly, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee averaged 5.53 trips per member, while the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee averaged only 1.33 trips.

In my next post, I’ll offer a few observations about why I think these results are significant, and why they raise some interesting separation of powers questions.

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg.

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