Members of Congress often travel abroad on official trips for business purposes in order to meet with governmental officials and gain first-had knowledge on issues relevant to foreign policy. The task of planning, executing and escorting these Congressional delegations, or CODELs, is given to members of the Department of State at the United States embassies abroad. These CODELs do not always go as expected, whether it is a Congressman not fulfilling the official purpose of the trip or giving last-minute requests despite what was stated beforehand. Embassy officials have to be flexible and react to whatever happens during the visit; in a worst-case scenario, like the ones presented here, a bad visit could have negative effects on one’s career.
Serban Vallimarescu recounts one CODEL with then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill to Buenos Aires that did not fully correspond with the purported purpose of said trip. More seriously, however, the Ambassador complained to Speaker O’Neill about the behavior of one of the Congressmen and O’Neill reportedly had the Ambassador removed from his post. Dennis Kux describes his experience with the all-powerful Congressman Wayne Hays, who later became notorious for the sex scandal involving Elizabeth Ray, a former Miss Virginia who was hired to be his secretary even though, as Ray famously said, “”I can’t type. I can’t file. I can’t even answer the phone.” Hays was called “the meanest man in the House” by his own colleagues. Dennis Kux relates his experience with the difficult Congressman during his visit to Frankfurt and how he had a general transferred, arguably because he didn’t think he was obsequious enough.
Serban Vallimarescu began his interview with Cliff Groce in May 1989. Dennis Kux began his interview with Thomas Stern on January 13, 1995. You can read about other CODEL experiences.
“They spent a little over three days and they “worked” about two and a half-hours”
VALLIMARESCU: Well, as you know, certain countries overseas are very popular places for Congressmen to visit, especially in the winter. When it’s winter here, January and February, and summer in Buenos Aires, the CODELs are coming one after the other. One I remember especially was headed by the then Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. He had already announced that he was retiring, so this was his last junket, in effect. He came down heading a CODEL which consisted of some 35 to 40 people, including wives and staff assistants. And of course in a special Air Force plane.
The purpose of their trip, officially, was to consult with Argentine congressmen and government officials on U.S.-Argentine relations. About a month before they were scheduled to arrive it was quite clear that one thing they really wanted to do was play golf. One officer in the embassy was assigned full time to working out the details of this golf trip. They requested that a special tournament be organized for them. So the “golf officer” of the embassy contacted the Esso people — there they’re called Esso, not Exxon — and Esso agreed to finance this little operation and to work with the embassy in setting up the golf tournament.
[The golf tournament was supposed to consist of] Argentines and Americans, yes. Also, the embassy was instructed to find a golf cart for the Speaker. Now in Argentina they don’t use golf carts, they use the little portable caddies. The poor man had the time of his life trying to find an electric golf cart, and he didn’t. I remember that Tip O’Neill was very upset by this.
So they arrive, are taken to their hotel, and immediately ask the people in the control room for the best place to buy leather, to buy wool, what the best restaurants are, change money, and proceed to sort of disappear — most of them. Tip O’Neill and some of the Congressmen did come to the embassy for a briefing by the Ambassador, but they kept looking at their watches because they didn’t want to waste too much time on this nonsense.
To make a long story short, they stayed in Buenos Aires I believe three full days. They played golf for at least a day and a half. They resented the fact that they had to go to a reception at the Ambassador’s residence. The Ambassador felt he had to invite Argentine congressmen and political figures to his home to meet these Congressmen. They really didn’t want to have this reception, but most of them attended, but not all of them. They left early because they wanted to go gallivanting.
They did see President Alfonsin for an hour or so. So in effect they spent a little over three days and they “worked” about two and a half-hours. During the meeting with President Alfonsin, which was attended by Ambassador Ortiz, the Speaker and one other member of the delegation, a Democrat whose name escapes me at the moment, made a strong pitch for him to, in effect, lobby with many of his Latin American colleagues and even with people in the United States, against the U.S. policy in Central America, and specifically in Nicaragua [with the Sandinistas]. I believe a vote was upcoming on this whole issue of Nicaragua.
Needless to say, Ambassador Ortiz was absolutely stunned that a U.S. Congressman would in effect lobby against his own government’s policy with a foreign head of state, and so informed the Speaker when he drove him back to the airport. The Speaker was very upset at the Ambassador’s recriminations, and later on Frank Ortiz was removed from Buenos Aires and sent to New Mexico as diplomat-in-residence at the University of New Mexico. A lot of people said that it was Tip O’Neill’s last shot at the Ambassador.
The story appeared in print, in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The New York Times at the time had a special column of News from Washington and they had a blurb about how much this CODEL cost the U.S. taxpayer and what the U.S. taxpayer got in return — in effect, very little. Both papers’ correspondents had asked me how the visit had gone or was going, and what they had done when they were in Buenos Aires. And I told them. They used it. End of story. I don’t regret it. Although it didn’t do much good.
I don’t know how these junkets are going now, if they still are as outrageous as they used to be in terms of wasting the taxpayer’s money, but I do remember that the next CODELs were a little more productive in terms of cost effectiveness for the U.S. taxpayer. The best one was CODEL Baker, who came by himself and worked hard for three or four days. Senator Baker took his job very seriously. There was no fooling around, no shopping, no golf playing. My hat’s off to him.
“That weekend was quite an experience”
KUX: Another trip I recall the most vividly was a Congressional visit — Congressman Wayne Hays. Hays and a Congressional delegation more or less “dropped out” of the sky. They were a parliamentary delegation going to Brussels for a NATO meeting and couldn’t land in Brussels. They landed in Frankfurt instead. I was assigned as the control officer because I was the first person that the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] ran into in the embassy. I was told to go over to the Petershof, a luxury hotel across the Rhine River, and to take care of the delegation which was going to stay there.
The Embassy was ready to go all out since Hays was the Chairman of the subcommittee that passed on State’s funding. The other Congressmen were not a problem. However, Wayne Hays was a difficult person to deal with. That weekend was quite an experience.
Congressman Hays, who was the leader of the delegation, arrived about 15 or 20 minutes after I got to the hotel. He got out of his car–not an Embassy car but a car from the Consulate General in Frankfurt. He was with a young lady–he said she was his “secretary”–and off they went upstairs. Some 15 or 20 minutes after that, a bus arrived with the other five or six Congressmen in it.
They were all talking about the “big scene” at the Frankfurt airport, when Congressman Hays arrived. Apparently, Hays had cabled ahead that he wanted this or that kind of bus and that they would all travel by bus. However, when Congressman Hays arrived, he insisted on a car for himself. As the Commanding General at the air base hadn’t provided what Congressman Hays wanted, Hays proceed to chew that general up and down. Hays read the Riot Act to this general because he hadn’t provided a car, and Congressman Hays was going to have to ride in a bus. The Consul General in Frankfurt said: “Mr. Congressman, take my car.” So Hays took the Consul General’s car. They zoomed off and then ran out of gas! Anyway, by the time that Congressman Hays arrived in Bonn, he had calmed down. The other Congressmen were all reverberating about what had happened.
It turned out that Congressman Hays, as the chairman of the group, had virtually dictatorial powers over what they did. That night they all ate at the hotel. I became the “bag man.” The Congressmen had the right to draw money. I had the money, and all they had to do was to sign vouchers with me. There was a system, about which the Administrative Counselor of the Embassy, briefed me.
The wife of one of the Congressmen was also there–the wife of Congressman Mendel Rivers [Democrat, South Carolina]. He was then Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Rivers wasn’t there, but his wife was. (Later I learned he had disappeared on a bender in London.) She asked me for some money, and I gave her Congressman Rivers’ money.
There was a number of Congressional staffers along, including the Staff Director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was a very senior man–supposedly a power on the Hill. He came up to me, sweating profusely, and he said: “You gave Mrs. Rivers money. Did the Chairman Hays approve?” I said: “I don’t know. I didn’t ask.” He said: “Oh, my God! You can’t do that!” Then he said: “I’ll be back in a second.” Five minutes later he came back and said: “Whew! It’s OK. But never give out money without checking with Congressman Hays.”
Also visiting Bonn at that time, was the chief or deputy chief of the Foreign Buildings Office [FBO], the office which controls State Department buildings overseas. When he heard that Congressman Hays was in town, he shot over to the Petershof. He didn’t get more than 10 feet away from Hays for the rest of the trip. He kept mumbling: “Mr. Chairman this and Mr. Chairman that.” It was shameful but sad.
There were very senior Congressmen in the Hays delegation. Congressman Les Arends was the leading Republican, Congressman Jack Brooks, a Democrat from Texas, and there were a couple of others. The weather was bad the next day, so the Hays delegation stayed in Bonn.
The Marine Ball [November 10, anniversary of the foundation of the Marine Corps] was held at this time. Congressman Hays decided that he was going to go to Cologne or someplace else. He wasn’t going to the Marine Ball. He wanted a specific type of car. I turned to the Administrative Counselor and he got the right type of car. I remember that he told me that if Hays asked a car with for one green tire, one red tire, and one blue tire, we would not argue with him, but get it. We arranged for a control officer for each of the Congressmen; each got an Embassy car, and they went off in different directions for the day. That night, everybody but Congressman Hays went to the Marine Ball, and the Congressmen had a good time.
Congressman Hays got hold of me and said that on the next morning the group was going to go to Brussels by bus. Congressman Hays had told me: “You arrange for the bus.” He specified what kind of bus it was supposed to be. But then he said that he was not going in that bus. Only the others were. He wanted to travel to Brussels in an Embassy car. He said, “I want you to be here with the car. Be here at 8:30 a.m. sharp with the car, and don’t tell anybody. The others won’t be up.”
So I got hold of my friendly Administrative Counselor. We got the car. The Administrative Counselor had been wise and had positioned backup cars, out of view.
I had to cross the Rhine River on a ferry to get to the Petershof Hotel. The only thing that could go wrong–I thought that I had enough time–was that the Rhine would get fogged in and the ferry wouldn’t run. That happened, maybe, once a year. I got down to the ferry, having left home at 8:00 a.m. It should have taken about 10 minutes to get over to the Petershof Hotel. I had allowed myself plenty of time. And what happened? The Rhine fogged in. I was stuck down at the damned ferry for 10 or 15 minutes. Fortunately the Embassy had a radio system. At 8:20 a.m. I heard Congressman Hays–calling from the hotel–saying: “Where’s the Embassy car?” Just at that moment, miraculously, the fog lifted, the ferry went over, and I arrived at 8:29 a.m. Congressman Hays said: “Good morning, Mr. Kux.” He got in the car with his “secretary” and off they went.
About 15 or 20 minutes later down came Congressman Les Arends, the ranking Republican on the delegation. They were all coming down for breakfast, but he happened to be the first one down. He said: “Where’s Hays?” I said, “Well, Mr. Arends, he is gone to Brussels.” Arends said: “He is gone to Brussels? How did he go?”
I said: “In a car.”
Arends asked: “Who gave him the car? We are all traveling by bus.”
I said: “Well, he asked for a car, so we gave him a car.” Arends said, “Oh, you gave him a car?” He said: “Now that I am the ranking member of the delegation here, can you get me a car?”
I said: “Yes, Mr. Arends.” He said: “That’s fine. I will be leaving in 15 minutes after I have finished my breakfast.”
So, 15 minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Arends sneaked out in a car. So off went Congressman Arends. As he was going off, the other Congressmen came down for breakfast and asked: “Where the hell is he Arends going? What’s going on here?” Then the bus arrived, but it was a pretty rickety bus. The next ranking Congressman said: “Well, I want a car, too.” By now the others were there, and they started joshing him. In the end, everybody rode in the bus, and they used the extra car for excess baggage. And off they went, but it was quite a weekend.
The DCM was breathing easier. Congressman Hays, apparently, had raised such hell in Frankfurt that he later had the American general commanding the U. S. Air Force installation transferred. I got a profuse letter of thanks–a commendation–from Bill Macomber, who was in charge of Congressional Relations in the State Department. That was a memorable weekend.