Let’s have some hearings

Pelosi told Bush about her trip to Damascus the day before she left, and Bush had no objection.

Back in the early Pleistocene, when I was a junior Congressional staffer, any overseas travel by groups of Congressmen (officially “codels,” [“COngressional DELegations”], unofficially “junkets”) was arranged through the State Department. I was going to ask whether the Pelosi trip to Damascus, which the wingnuts are now alleging was a Logan Act violation (?!), was different, but Rep. Nick Rahall beat me to the punch. Not only was the State Department involved in every meeting, Speaker Pelosi told President Bush personally about the trip the day before the delegation left, and Bush made no objection.

House Foreign Affairs (or, even better, Senate Foreign Relations) ought to hold hearings on this right after the Easter Recess. Let’s have the members of the delegation, the Republican Members who visited Damascus just before and just after the bipartisan Pelosi group, Assistant Secretary of State Saurbrey, who visited Damascus in March, and the State Department officials who helped arrange the trip testify about whether there was ever any objection to the trip before it happened either from the State Department or from the White House. And let’s have written questions to the White House about whether the conversation Rep. Rahall recounts actually took place.

It seems to me that the Republicans are in a cleft stick. Either the trip was a bad idea and the administration deliberately let it happen so they’d have a chance to criticize Pelosi, or it wasn’t a bad idea and the administration decided to raise a fuss about nothing. Either way, they wind up looking bad if the questions are pushed hard.

With the editors of the Washington Post and USA Today already on record criticizing Pelosi, it will take a Big Event to turn the media narrative around. But in this case a Big Event isn’t hard to arrange.

Update Greg Djerijian, who understands the Middle East better than I do, provides a more nuanced analysis: Pelosi was doing the right thing, he says, but overplayed her hand.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com