As the rest of Washington State's delegation took advantage of this week's recess to spend time back home—mostly, like Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jay Inslee, hyping their stimulus bill scores—one legislator spent his recess on less cozy turf.  

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA, 3) spent the past few days in the Gaza Strip, touring the wreckage left by Israel's January invasion. Baird is traveling with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN, 5) (the first Muslim Congressman in U.S. history).

The pair was in Gaza  at the same time as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who traveled to Gaza this week as part of a separate group. Together, it marks the first time a delegation from the U.S. Legislature has traveled to the area since 2000.

Baird told reporters yesterday he was touring the area to "bring a message back to our colleagues and the people we represent, so they can understand the situation."

“The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering” said Baird in a statement issued by both Congressmen. "What went on here, and what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words.”

The visit was not approved by the Obama Administration, according to the statement, and the State Department typically discourages visits by legislators to war-torn areas like Gaza.

Baird spent the first half of the week participating in the US-Islamic Forum in Doha, Qatar, which was reportedly convened to discuss relations between the United States and the Islamic world.

In the statement Baird called for Israel to discontinue strikes within Gaza and to allow aid to flow freely to the victims of the strikes. "The arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food and repair essentials is unacceptable and indefensible," Baird and Ellison said jointly.

Baird's office also explained that Baird abstained from the 390-5 House vote "Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process"  on January 10 because he was here in Washington state working with flood victims.

No word on how he would have voted. Rep. Ellison voted "present" along with our own Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7). 

A long-time opponent of the Iraq War, Baird drew fierce criticism from his constituents back in August, 2007, when he came out in vocal support for President Bush's troop surge.

Rep. Baird and the rest of the Gaza group, which spent the day yesterday working with volunteer agencies in the area, will return to the United States tomorrow.

Baird's Gaza trip appeared to have come together at the last minute. Rep. Ellison's office told PubliCola: "They got to talking about it [while at the conference in Doha] and expressed an interest in expanding their travel in the region to include Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  They also had an overnight in Jordan with UNRWA (United Nations) officials who would be taking them into Gaza."

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