Lawmakers Head to Cartagena, Where ‘The Only Risk Is Wanting to Stay’

A Colombian Navy vessel patrols Cartagena Bay on February 9, 2014, as part of the security measures for the VIII Pacific Alliance presidential summit to be held on February 10.
National Journal
Billy House
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Billy House
Feb. 18, 2014, 3:06 p.m.

Ah, beau­ti­ful Cart­agena. A his­tor­ic fish­ing vil­lage on Colom­bia’s Carib­bean Coast, known for its beaches, cobble­stone streets, old-town co­lo­ni­al ar­chi­tec­ture, and a sur­round­ing wall topped with can­non.

More than a dozen U.S. House mem­bers and some of their spouses ar­rived in Cart­agena Tues­day for the start of five-day series of sem­inars and oth­er events on the changes in Lat­in Amer­ica sponsored by the As­pen In­sti­tute Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gram.

The trip took place des­pite a State De­part­ment warn­ing to U.S. cit­izens about haz­ards of trav­el­ing to Colom­bia — a warn­ing that was re­newed in Oc­to­ber and does not ex­empt Cart­agena. But as re­cently as 2012 the city played host to the sixth Sum­mit of the Amer­icas, which was at­ten­ded by Pres­id­ent Obama and 33 oth­er re­gion­al lead­ers des­pite a sim­il­ar travel warn­ing. And, as one Colom­bi­an na­tion­al tour­ism pro­mo­tion holds, “The only risk is want­ing to stay.”

Of­fi­cials at As­pen, which de­scribes its edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram as a non­gov­ern­ment­al, non­par­tis­an ef­fort, de­clined to say which law­makers were go­ing on the trip and wheth­er As­pen was pay­ing the tab. “It was my un­der­stand­ing As­pen didn’t want any press on this,” said a spokes­wo­man for one law­maker at­tend­ing.

But be­cause a “primary trip spon­sor form” was re­quired to be filed with the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, the names of law­makers plan­ning to at­tend were made avail­able. The list in­cludes: Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair Robert Good­latte; Ways and Means rank­ing Demo­crat Sander Lev­in; Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force rank­ing Demo­crat George Miller; Pro­gress­ive Caucus co­chair Raul Gri­jalva; and Reps. Gene Green, Steve Co­hen, Lloyd Dog­gett, Joe Gar­cia, Jeff Forten­berry, Zoe Lof­gren, John Gara­mendi, Sam Farr, and Gregory Meeks.

Calls and emails to these law­makers Tues­day con­firmed that Lof­gren, Meeks, Miller, Gri­jalva, Lev­in, Co­hen, Gara­mendi, and Gar­cia are at­tend­ing events in Colom­bia. Oth­er of­fices did not re­spond to in­quir­ies.

Gri­jalva wasn’t a bit shy about dis­cuss­ing the trip, which he is tak­ing with his wife. He said the is­sues on the agenda are in­triguing and im­port­ant, and he ex­pects them to be help­ful to his work, par­tic­u­larly a ses­sion Sat­urday on im­mig­ra­tion.

“I’m really look­ing for­ward to it,” he said.

While As­pen of­fi­cials did not dis­cuss the trip’s activ­it­ies, an agenda shows a lineup of meet­ings, work­ing lunches, din­ners, and oth­er ses­sions sched­uled with ex­perts and of­fi­cials. Top­ics in­clude the Lat­in Amer­ic­an eco­nomy and se­cur­ity chal­lenges.

A kick­off Wed­nes­day morn­ing in­cludes a wel­come from the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of As­pen’s con­gres­sion­al pro­gram, Dan Glick­man, a former Ag­ri­cul­ture sec­ret­ary and con­gress­man.

Asked who will be pay­ing for all of this, As­pen spokes­man Jim Spiegel­man de­ferred ques­tions to Glick­man when he re­turns from Colom­bia. But As­pen is pay­ing for at least some law­makers. “As­pen pay­ing for all of Con­gress­man Gara­mendi’s trip,” said Mat­thew Krav­itz, a spokes­man for the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat.

Obama’s trip to Cart­agena in 2012 was marred by two small bomb ex­plo­sions that pre­ceded his ar­rival and by a scan­dal that in­volved Secret Ser­vice agents hir­ing pros­ti­tutes dur­ing the trip.

Spiegel­man said Tues­day that law­makers were not trav­el­ing with their own se­cur­ity. “When se­cur­ity is ne­ces­sary, the pro­gram hires privately or works dir­ectly with the U.S. em­bassy in that par­tic­u­lar coun­try,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC Has Clinton Up 5 Points
13 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 49%-44% in a new CNN/ORC poll out Monday afternoon. But it's Gary Johnson's performance, or lack thereof, that's the real story. Johnson, who had cleared 10% in some surveys earlier this fall, as he made a bid to qualify for the debates, is down to 3% support. He must hit 5% nationwide for the Libertarian Party to qualify for some federal matching funds in future elections.

McCarthy, Pelosi Team Up on National Guard Bonuses
15 hours ago

The majority and minority leader of the House are both saying "California's veterans are not to blame for being mistakenly overpaid, after a Los Angeles Times story revealed that officials are trying to claw back millions in bonuses from California National Guardsmen. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the efforts to recoup the money 'disgraceful,' and asked for the Department of Defense to waive the repayments soldiers would be forced to make if they inappropriately received re-enlistment bonuses for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she's looking for a "legislative fix" in the lame-duck session.

IBD/TIPP Poll Shows a Dead Heat
17 hours ago

A new Investor’s Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each earning 41% support. On the one hand, the poll has been skewing in Trump's favor this year, relative to other polls. But on the other, data guru Nate Silver called the IBD/TIPP poll the most accurate in 2012.

Clinton Leads by 12 in ABC Tracking Poll
22 hours ago

Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 12 percentage points among likely voters, 50 to 38 percent, in a new ABC News tracking poll, "her highest support and his lowest to date in ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls. Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, Jill Stein 2 percent. Clinton led by only four points in the last ABC/Post poll on Oct. 13.

Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
3 days ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.