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“He has attended in the past,” Harkin spokeswoman Kate Cyrul said. “He is on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and is a former Navy pilot, so he’s had a strong interest in aerospace technology and issues.
“And, of course, there are Iowa companies who will participate in the show,” she added.
Mikulski spokeswoman Rachel MacKnight said her boss’s position as chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee makes it crucial that she attends the trade show as “an advocate for American industry.”
Other senators who have attended in past years have decided to skip this year, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
“Sen. Graham has been in the past, as the Boeing 747 is incredibly important to our state’s economy,” Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said in an email.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe, himself a pilot, has gone to the air show in years past, but, according to his office, the senator will not attend this year.
Some hedging before the event is to be expected. It happens every year before the air show.
The normal drill is that a senator’s office will say the senator will not be going to Paris or Hampshire, and then a couple of days before the trip is slated to begin, he or she will suddenly decide to go on the trip.
Once at the air show, members and their staffs will get a private tour, getting an inside track on the latest technologies in the commercial, defense and space sectors. The rest of the week will be a whirl of meetings and events.
“Members of Congress who attend the air shows will engage with their foreign counterparts,” Sterling said. The international competitors and partners will have opportunities to discuss defense security and compete on various bids — commercial and military.
“It’s a good forum for fostering discussion, educating [lawmakers] about what is out there,” he said. And it isn’t just those companies that have factories to build the frame of the aircraft. Sterling said it’s about the whole supply chain.
“These are high-paying jobs that every country in the world wants in their economy, so you see it would be certainly helpful for senators to go over there and do everything they can to attract jobs to the U.S. and their own home states,” he said, adding that “when senators go, that is a symbol of the U.S. showing up.”
So, the lesson? Optics go both ways.
“It will be very noticeable if there’s no senior-level U.S. leaders at the air show,” Sterling told CQ Roll Call.
The rest of the world will know for sure once summer financial disclosures for the Senate have been filed.
Warren Rojas, Emily Cahn and Julie Ershadi contributed to this report.