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codel

A “codel,” or congressional delegation, is a group of members of the United States Congress who travel together on official business.

These trips are often called “codels,” and they can include visits to other countries, meetings with foreign officials, or inspections of military or diplomatic facilities.

The purpose of codels

Codels are a common practice in Congress, and they serve a number of purposes.

They can be used for fact-finding missions, to gather information and insights that can inform legislation or policy decisions.

They can also be used for diplomatic purposes, to build relationships with foreign governments and to advance the interests of the United States.

In addition to the members of Congress, codels may also include staff members and other officials who can provide expertise or support on the specific issues being addressed.

For example, a codel might include staff members with expertise in foreign policy or defense, or it might include officials from relevant agencies such as the State Department or the Department of Defense.

codel

Codels are typically organized and funded by the relevant committees in Congress, such as the Foreign Affairs Committee or the Armed Services Committee.

These committees will often set the agenda for the trip, determine who will be included in the delegation, and provide logistical support.

Codels can be controversial, as they can be seen as a way for members of Congress to take taxpayer-funded trips to exotic locations. Some have complained the trips lead to honest graft.

Critics have also raised concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest, such as when members of Congress are invited on codels by foreign governments or other interested parties.

More on “codel”

One of many perks that members of Congress enjoy, but which the public often finds distasteful when details are revealed. Congressional delegations (codels) are ostensibly to discuss policy issues with foreign leaders. But often the destinations are exotic, beautiful locales that would be pricey if members of Congress had to pay out of their own pockets.

The Grand Cayman Islands and Italy are among those frequented by lawmakers. A bipartisan favorite codel has for years been the Paris Air Show. Sometimes, members are even allowed to bring a spouse along.

Sequester spending cuts in 2013—a result of budget impasses between President Barack Obama and the Republican House—led to some limits on codels. Instead, lawmakers seeking all-expenses-paid trips abroad had to rely mostly on private groups, a shift ethics experts said was troubling. Such privately sponsored junkets have been the source of many congressional ethics investigations.

Because lawmakers of both parties enjoy overseas junkets the trips usually don’t become political cudgels. But not always. Representative Jackie Speier made Republican colleagues’ travel a prime target during September 2013 House floor debate over a GOP bill to cut $39 billion from the federal food stamps pro-gram. On the House floor the California Democrat brought out a cooked steak, a bottle of vodka, and a can of caviar. The props were a pointed reminder that many of the same lawmakers’ accusing food stamp recipients of living-off-the-dole had repeat-edly taken trips around the world on others’ dimes.“

Some of these same members travel to foreign countries under the guise of official business,” Speier told the House in righteous indignation. “They dine at lavish restaurants, eating steak, vodka and even caviar. They receive money to do this. That’s right, they don’t pay out of pocket for these meals.” Speier went on, using particular examples of members of Congress who went on sponsored trips and spent large amounts of money on food and lodging. “Let me give you a few examples: One member was given $127.41 a day for food on his trip to Argentina. He probably had a fair amount of steak,” she said.

“Another member was given $3,588 for food and lodging during a six-day trip to Russia. He probably drank a fair amount of vodka and probably even had some caviar. That particular mem-ber has 21,000 food stamp recipients in his district. One of those people who is on food stamps could live a year on what this congressman spent on food and lodging for six days,” she added. But Speier’s comparisons ultimately fell on deaf ears. House Republicans prevailed on the vote on a narrow 217–200 margin.

When a lawmaker’s aides go on a trip without the boss present, it’s known as a “staffdel”—a much lower-budget (but more free-spirited, to hear some aides tell it) undertaking.

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Examples of “codel” in a sentence

  • The codel to China allowed members of Congress to meet with Chinese officials and discuss trade and other issues.
  • The opposition party criticized the majority for taking a taxpayer-funded codel to Europe during the summer recess.
  • The codel included members of the Foreign Affairs Committee and staff members with expertise in the region.