Many facets of official Washington can look impenetrably bureaucratic to the voters who send lawmakers there, and in some ways CODELs are no exception. But there’s a reason the trips are referred to as a “secret weapon” in a gridlocked capital: For more than a half-century, visits intended to reassure allies about goings-on in the U.S. have also helped members of Congress foster rare human connections that can shape future policy — even on issues unrelated to foreign affairs.
On paper, CODELs allow lawmakers to travel abroad to meet with world leaders, diplomats and advocates on any number of national security topics. But in practice, lawmakers who join them spend tenfold the amount of time together than they do on the Hill each week while running between committees, staff meetings and votes. The rigid, often scripted nature of their typical day-to-day essentially disappears, allowing CODELs to function as a counterweight to domestic polarization.
“At a time when fewer and fewer members spend time together during the week, and none on the weekends, this is really the best opportunity for time away from Washington and time in places around the world,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another CODEL veteran who traveled to Madrid. There, he added, “what unites us as Americans is more important than what divides us as partisans.”