“I’ll quote the congressman here—he always says that 'the government governs best when it governs closest to the people,’” said Matt McCullough, spokesman for Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla. "The only way you can do that is to come home and hear from the people about how these decisions in Washington are affecting people back home.”
Yet despite their insistence that the August “recess” is anything but, the Jerusalem Post reported earlier this month that 47 freshmen have signed up to be a part of three congressional delegations visiting Israel. The weeklong trips are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable group affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
When contacted by National Journal, some of the participating lawmakers neglected to mention the trip, and a number of aides said confidentially that they had been instructed not to discuss it for security reasons. Asked for details about the visit to Israel, an aide to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who is on the ground leading the first of these delegations, said, “We leave it up to the discretion of members.”
Israel has long been a favorite destination for privately funded congressional delegations, according to data compiled by LegiStorm, a government-transparency website. Over the past decade, Turkey and Israel were visited by lawmakers from both chambers 372 and 312 times, respectively. (India, the third-most-visited foreign country, was visited only 56 times.)
A spokesman for AIPAC said that privately funded delegations of this sort have occurred regularly for over the past decade, and that the organization may sponsor another round of trips later this year.
Although the visits are official business, the delegations to Israel at a time of economic hardship at home are likely to draw media attention, Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., was invited to participate but “lost so much … time because of the canceled district work period in July that I decided I needed to do other things,” he said. “I’m going to try to have some downtime with the family, but this is a district-work period, not a vacation.”
But even working vacations have their upsides.
“I’ve got a 7-year-old who enjoys seeing dad at breakfast,” Johnson said. “That’s what it’s all about.”