McConnell on Cochran Trips: No Comment
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to defend taxpayer-funded travels of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and his executive assistant Kay Webber on Tuesday.
"You'll have to address those questions to Sen. Cochran,” McConnell replied when asked if he thought Cochran taking Webber to 42 foreign countries on 33 taxpayer-funded congressional delegations, or CODELs, was a wise use of taxpayer dollars.
Late Monday evening, Breitbart News reported that Webber accompanied Cochran on dozens of the trips since 2002. While senators routinely bring their spouses and aides on the trips, aides selected typically have specialized expertise or titles that reflect senior policymaking responsibilities in their office.
The full list of countries they traveled to includes: Italy, France, Brussels, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Hungary, Russia, Norway, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Austria, and Czech Republic in Europe; Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile in South America; Guatemala and Mexico in North and Central America; Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Republic of the Philippines, and South Korea in Asia; Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Azerbaijan, Oman, and United Arab Emirates in the Middle East; and Morocco, Egypt, Cape Verde, and South Africa in Africa.
According to the Congressional Record, Webber’s presence on these trips cost taxpayers more than $155,000.
“Ms. Webber is a senior member of Senator Cochran’s staff with more than three decades of experience on Capitol Hill. It is appropriate for a senior member of the Senator’s staff with her Congressional experience to accompany him on these trips,” Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell said about the matter.
McConnell aides attended at least two of these trips. McConnell sent Thomas Hawkins on a Spring 2012 trip with Cochran and Webber to Turkey, Thailand, China, and Korea and sent Hawkins and Dr. Brian Monahan on a Spring 2013 trip to Israel, Oman, Azerbaijan, Romania, and Czech Republic.
McConnell’s decision—for whatever reason—to refuse to defend Cochran comes as Cochran faces a serious Tea Party challenger in Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Brian Walsh, a political consultant for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), told The Hill this week that he was "keeping an eye on Mississippi,” because he was “concerned” that McDaniel might beat Cochran on June 3.
Walsh argued McDaniel is the only Tea Party challenger who has a shot to take down an incumbent in 2014, at least from the establishment’s perspective.
"We're going to have a good 2014 and we're on offense in a number of states, but it doesn't necessarily solve the problems in 2016," Walsh said.
McConnell is facing a primary of his own from businessman Matt Bevin. The election is in a few days, and McConnell is widely expected to win. McConnell is also facing a tough general election battle against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, but in Mississippi whoever wins the GOP nomination is expected to win the seat.