Congressional delegation to NAT0 meeting may have bent law
Washington — From NATO meetings in Turkey to trade discussions half a world away in the Far East, members of Congress are in the air and on the road again, accompanied by aides, military escorts and often their spouses. The biggest single trip so far during the legislative recess found 21 representatives and seven senators in Istanbul in mid-November for the annual meeting of the NATO Assembly, a conclave of lawmakers from North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations.
The relatively huge contingent -- 77 or more people using at least three military aircraft -- included retiring Sen. Charles Mathias (R) of Maryland, the outgoing Assembly president. He needed a special vote waiving a Senate rule against post-election trips overseas by lame-duck members.
On the House side, the fact that 21 members went to the meeting may have violated one of the few laws that directly authorize specific foreign travel by United States lawmakers. The US Code states that the NATO Assembly delegation is ``not to exceed 24 members of Congress,'' with half of them appointed by the Speaker of the House and half by the Senate president.
``I'm not familiar with it,'' Chris Matthews, spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., (D) of Massachusetts, said when asked about law.
Dick Nelius, a staff member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which coordinated the trip, offered this explanation of the House contingent: ``Twelve were delegates. The others were alternates.'' He added: ``It's not a junket. It's a working trip.''
The committee said these House members went to the meeting: Dante Fascell (D) and Lawrence Smith (D) of Florida; Jack Brooks (D) of Texas; Charles Rose (D) of North Carolina; Frank Annunzio (D) and Cardiss Collins (D) of Illinois; Robert Garcia (D), Gerald Solomon (R), Frank Horton (R), Benjamin Gilman (R), and Sherwood Boehlert (R) of New York; Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico; Howard Berman (D) of California, Mary Rose Oakar (D) of Ohio; Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana; Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland; Doug Bereuter (R) of Nebraska; Thomas Petri (R) of Wisconsin; Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado; Bart Gordon (D) of Tennessee, and Jim Courter (R) of New Jersey.
Besides Mr. Mathias, the Senate group included William Roth (R) of Delaware, Quentin Burdick (D) of North Dakota, Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas, Daniel Evans (R) of Washington, Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, and James McClure (R) of Idaho.
In what could be the longest trip during the current recess, in terms of time and distance, Rep. Charles Wilson (D) of Texas, is traveling on House Appropriations Committee business from Nov. 6 to Dec. 6 to Italy, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, China, and Tahiti.