Known as the Congressional Delegation, abbreviated as CODEL in Hill, the trip took Tillis and Murphy away from the Capitol’s often virulent partisan culture and forged a relationship, as the Republicans explain That relationship is critical to the gun trade.
At CODEL, “we work 12 and 14 hours a day, and sometimes we travel two or three hours from country to country,” Tillis said in an interview in the Spanish capital, another NATO participant this year. The seat of overseas delegations. summit. “It just gets you into a position…you build trust and build familiarity, [and] It’s the foundation of what we do. ”
Many aspects of Washington’s officialdom may seem bureaucratic incomprehensible to voters who send lawmakers there, and in some ways CODEL is no exception. But there’s a reason these trips are being called a “secret weapon” in a gridlocked capital: More than half a century, visits designed to reassure allies about what’s happening in the U.S. have also helped members of Congress cultivate rare personal connections This can shape future policy — even on issues unrelated to foreign affairs.
On paper, CODEL allows lawmakers to travel abroad to meet with world leaders, diplomats and advocates on any number of national security topics. But in practice, the lawmakers who join them spend ten times as much time each week running between committees, staff meetings and voting as they do on the mountain. The rigid, often scripted nature of their typical day-to-day work has largely disappeared, allowing CODEL to play a role in balancing domestic polarization.
Members of the modern CODEL, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) and Tillis organized last week’s eight-person NATO summit tour, which included stops in Finland and Sweden. In Madrid, Shaheen was swarmed by foreign journalists, who recognized her because of her extensive international travel.
“When we were actually in the Senate and learned to trust each other, we got to know each other in a way that we usually don’t have time to do,” Shaheen said in an interview on the sidelines of the tumult. “It’s really important when you’re dealing with all the issues.”
For Tillis and Murphy, CODEL has paved the way for them as two of four negotiators shaping bipartisan gun safety legislation. In some ways, though, they are willing to accept the kind of in-your-face negotiations that Washington once engaged in, a precondition for even taking part in international travel.
That’s because more bipartisan members of the Senate rarely join CODEL, especially those trying to preach ideological purity to its political base. Participating in a delegation essentially requires senators to lose their Democratic or Republican labels — albeit temporarily — and serve as de facto diplomats.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), another CODEL veteran traveling to Madrid. There, he added, “what unites us as Americans is more important than what divides us as partisans.”
Lawmakers rarely bring reporters, in part because of safety and resource concerns. POLITICO participated in last week’s NATO summit, CODEL, to directly compare the legend and reality of the legislator’s travels.
From Acheson to McCain’s Legacy
CODEL began in the 1940s when future Secretary of State Dean Acheson first established the department’s Office of Legislative Affairs. His goal is to use lawmakers to bolster the Truman administration’s diplomatic efforts, especially on issues that require congressional support.
Naz Durakoglu, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs and a former foreign policy adviser, said: “It’s very important that you have an equal branch of government doing diplomacy overseas, especially when you want to strengthen your message. time.” Shaheen.
The Spanish capital’s CODEL spoke to allies in one voice on the Senate’s almost unanimous support for admitting Sweden and Finland to NATO.Over the next few weeks, the chamber will be Defence treaty expected to be voted on That would give the U.S. government a rubber stamp on the two countries joining the storied Western military alliance. (Formal ratification requires ratification by all 30 member states.)
The trip, led by Shaheen-Tillis, also includes an hour-long meeting with President Joe Biden, who is attending the summit. Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is himself a seasoned CODEL traveler who attributes those trips to a decades-long friendship with the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) .
Here’s how it started: Early in Biden’s Senate term, McCain served as the Chamber’s Navy liaison, a role that allowed him to join CODELs overseas.in a 2017 speechesMcCain joked that he often had to carry the senator’s luggage, “once or two it turned out to be a young senator from Delaware.”
“I hated it ever since,” McCain quipped.
McCain’s longtime chief of staff and confidant Mark Salter has said the experience helped shape the senator’s future. Salter observed in 2020’s “The Luckiest Man: A Life with John McCain” that the vacations were “incubators of cross-generational and cross-partisan friendships” beyond any CODEL’s formal goals.
During McCain’s globetrotting, he often placed individual senators under his wing.These include Sen. Jack Reed (DR.I.), the successor to the Armed Services Committee chairman, and Coons, another close friend of Biden.
A recent CODEL-driven coalition case is Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), both of whom traveled to Madrid. Ernst, a veteran and rising star in the Republican Party, has worked with Durbin on issues ranging from Ukraine aid to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
Conservatives in Iowa also found partners in Shaheen to advance the rights of Afghan women and girls after the government fell to the Taliban.
senator turned emissary
In his memoirs of decades of working with McCain, Salter described the late senator well aware of CODEL’s ability to help senators wade into executive branch waters.
He “sees that foreign affairs and the conduct of foreign policy are not the exclusive preserve of the president and secretary of state,” Salter wrote. “Senators can also gain the clout of world statesmen.”
CODEL in Madrid last week met with several foreign leaders, including those of Georgia, Sweden, Germany and Japan. (Ernst said meeting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was especially helpful because Iowa has an extensive beef trade with Japan.)
After meeting with their own president, Republican senators in the delegation actually praised Biden for helping make the summit a success — another breakthrough in their stateside stance.
“Here, we have a bipartisan delegation and a president with a common goal,” Tillis said. “Back home, maybe not so much.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who attended that meeting, praised Biden for spending time with the group, but said she hoped that would happen more frequently in the United States.
“When he left, he said he wanted to see us again. I personally welcome that. I think it’s important to meet with a diverse group of senators,” Fisher said. “The president can only help when we are connected to our country and here.”
CODEL land is not always sunny
While the trip to the Balkans helped pass gun legislation through the finish line, Tillis and Durbin appeared to have had a productive conversation on immigration reform’s third railroad topic during the NATO summit.
Durbin said in an interview in Madrid that he and Tillis have a relationship decided to restart their immigration negotiations, which previously included Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Alex Padilla (D-Cal.). His comments follow the death of more than 50 migrants in a trailer in Texas last month.
“I sat down with Tom and talked over and over, and I’m sure, more,” Durbin said. “Each of these conversations can be two or three times our normal connection. It’s just a time without political pressure, a time of a personal nature, that really builds a relationship.”
Lawmakers say they struggle at CODEL not to discuss the issues that divide them — and there are many — especially as they try to show congressional unity to their foreign counterparts.For this reason, Coons said, senators Not talking to each other in Madrid over Supreme Court ruling Reversal last month Roe v. Wade.
However, CODEL can also occasionally spark domestic divisions.
A group of Republican senators, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John F. Kennedy of Louisiana, visited Russia on the July 4, 2018 holiday. There, they met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to ease tensions over U.S. intelligence. Agencies have concluded that Moscow interfered in the 2016 elections — a journey that, to this day, draws condemnation from the left.
Russia has never changed its behavior and is now waging a brutal war against Ukraine.