The Cable

Boehner: No more free foreign flights after sequester

Lawmakers will no longer be able to use military aircraft to go on congressional delegations, known as CODELs, to foreign countries after the sequester kicks in, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told his caucus Wednesday.

Congressmen regularly use military planes to visit foreign countries on "official" business, a cost imposed on the U.S. taxpayer. But after March 1 when the looming across-the-board automatic spending cuts dictated by the 2011 Budget Control Act go into effect, lawmakers will have to foot their own bill and fly commercial, if they want to visit foreign leaders in far off lands.

Boehner delivered the tough-love message to members of the House GOP caucus on Wednesday during a meeting on the next continuing resolution appropriations bill, which included an update on House efforts to comply with the sequester, a House GOP leadership aide told The Cable.

"The House Administration Committee has already notified leadership, committee, and member offices in the House that there will be spending cuts in their offices to comply with the sequester. And the speaker told the members today that in addition to those spending cuts, he is suspending the use of military aircraft for official travel by House members," the aide said. "The Speaker believes this is the prudent and responsible course of action, and it goes above and beyond the spending cuts the House will be implementing to comply with the president's sequester."

Over the last congressional recess alone, there were a host of lawmakers gallivanting around the globe. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) went to Afghanistan. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) went to Mexico (he flew commercial). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went to Israel and Jordan. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) went to Tunisia, Mali, Senegal, and Algeria. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) traveled with Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Terri Sewell (D-AL) on a trip to Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa ... just to name a few.

Many of these trips are substantive; some are less so. There has long been suspicion that trips to certain locations -- often tropical or tourist destinations with little relation to foreign policy or national security -- are just taxpayer-funded vacations for lawmakers and their spouses.

According to Legistorm, the list of the top 20 countries visited by congressmen on official travel includes France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Brazil, and Costa Rica.

There's a requirement that each day of official travel include one meeting with a foreign official, however. Fun fact: congressional aides told The Cable that the foreign official who has held the most audiences with American lawmakers over the years is none other than the mayor of Machu Picchu, Peru. Money well spent.

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The Cable

Kerry: Iran has an ‘elected’ government

Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Iran has an "elected" government, echoing a comment for which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was pilloried in his confirmation hearing last month.

"Iran is a country with a government that was elected and that sits in the United Nations," Kerry said in France standing alongside French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "And it is important for us to deal with nation-states in a way that acts in the best interests of all of us in the world."

The comment is similar to what Hagel said on Jan. 31 when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Iran was "an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not."

Some might beg to differ with that assessment.

The 2009 election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was widely suspected to be rigged. His challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi said so at the time and Iran saw days of unrest after Ahmadinejad was proclaimed to have secured 63 percent of the vote.

Vice President Joe Biden said on Meet the Press "there's some real doubt" whether Ahmadinejad won. "There's an awful lot of questions about how this election was run," he said. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at the time, "I think there are a number of factors that give us some concern about what we've seen."

The Washington Post published an editorial detailing statistical evidence of fraud and abuse in the election results. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said it was "clearly a corrupt election."

Hagel had to walk back his declaration that Iran was "an elected, legitimate government" after being challenged in the hearing by Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

"I can understand if you meant it's a legal entity that has international relations and has diplomatic relations, that is a member of the UN, I do not see Iran or the Iranian government as a legitimate government, and I'd like your thoughts on that," Gillibrand said.

"What I meant to say, should have said, it's recognizable," Hagel replied. "It's been recognized, is recognized at the United Nations. Most of our allies have embassies there. That is what I should have said."