One Last CODEL for Biden

Posted January 6, 2009 at 6:44pm

Vice President-elect Joseph Biden will join a small group of Senators on a trip to southwest Asia later this week, despite a rule that prohibits lame-duck Senators from traveling on taxpayer-funded trips.

Biden’s travel is allowable because the definition of a lame duck applies only to Senators who lost the general election or were not candidates for re-election and whose successors have already been elected.

Biden won re-election to the Senate in November, was sworn in Tuesday and remains a Member until he steps aside sometime in the next two weeks prior to being sworn in as vice president.

So despite the fact that Biden will be leaving the Senate in less than a fortnight, he is not a lame-duck Senator under the chamber’s travel rules.

Biden is not only joining the delegation — he organized it. Four other Senators are taking the trip with him: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who will take over the gavel as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee when Biden steps down; and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The trip does not include other members of the Foreign Relations Committee, though staff for ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said he was invited to join the Congressional delegation. Lugar had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from traveling, his office said.

Because of security concerns, Biden has not released an itinerary for the trip, saying only that the group will travel to southwest Asia, a geographic description that could include hot spots such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Out of the same caution for security, the trip was organized as “CODEL Reed,” staffers said, in order to keep Biden’s name out of it.

Biden and the other Senators announced the trip Monday.

Sources said Biden personally invited Collins on the trip and noted that he has close relations with the other Members traveling as well.

Biden’s office emphasized that the vice president-elect is traveling “in his capacity as the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee” and that “the fact-finding delegation will make it clear to foreign leaders that they are not there to speak on behalf of the U.S. government, or convey policy positions for the incoming administration,” a statement from Biden’s office said.

But the trip is clearly designed to help the new administration devise its foreign policy.

An official familiar with the planning of the trip said Biden is making this trip in his capacity as a Senator “because doing it this way provides the best and earliest opportunity for him to gather real-time information on the situation in important countries in the region so that the new administration can hit the ground running come Jan. 20. If we waited to make the trip until after the inauguration, it would be 30 to 60 days before the trip could be planned from the White House.”

This source said the trip is “part of the general approach in the transition of being ready to govern on day one” and was “suggested by the president-elect’s national security team.”

The statement released by Biden’s office also notes that “in the coming months, both the Executive and Legislative branches will carefully review U.S. policy toward this region, and the trip will allow its participants to bring current and first-hand information to these reviews.”

The trip is also likely Biden’s last opportunity to travel with his longtime Senate colleagues. Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney said, “To the best of our office’s recollection, no U.S. Senator has traveled with Vice President Cheney on an international trip.”