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Harry Reid slays rumors of an Obama ban on federal travel to Las Vegas

July 17, 2009 |  4:44 am

Las Vegas has made a fortune off its sly slogan, the one suggesting what happens in Vegas stays in the famously — hmmm, how to put it? — open-minded city. But getting people to Vegas hasn’t been so easy of late, what with the lousy economy.

And it didn’t help when President Obama took a shot at the desert playground, making an offhand banker-bashing remark that seemed to tie Las Vegas to corporate excess.

("You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime," Obama said in some February banker-basing in Indiana, campaigning for his economic stimulus plan amid widespread bailout fatigue. Indiana in February; now there's a resort destination.)

Democrat Barack Obama in Las Vegas in May The governor of Nevada, Republican Jim Gibbons, and the mayor of Las Vegas, Democrat Oscar Goodman, pitched a fit.

Gibbons claimed the comment cost the city a stunning, if unverifiable, $100 million in lost business. Goodman demanded an apology.

Obama complied, sort of.

During a May visit -- with temperatures creeping into the 90s as he hit the city to raise millions for Harry Reid and visit an Air Force base -- the president allowed as how “there’s nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week.”

That, however, failed to mollify Goodman. Worse, word began to reach Nevada of an unofficial policy that seemed to make Vegas verboten for bureaucratic getaways. 

So Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid — the Senate Majority Leader and, thus, a crucial Obama ally — recently dashed off a note to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, complaining that the FBI, General Services Administration (Reid called it the General Services Agency) and Bureau of Indian Affairs had all apparently relocated gatherings once destined for Las Vegas.

True enough, Reid said, the city has “a well-earned reputation as a world-class dining and entertainment destination.” But there’s also plenty of reasonably priced (presumably mundane, distraction-free) convention space and an average nightly room rate of $98, “which is far lower than most ...  major convention cities,” Reid said.

“It is my view that travel decisions made by federal agencies should be based upon these considerations,” the senator wrote. 

This week came back the reply from Emanuel: Viva Las Vegas! 

The federal government has no business forbidding government meetings and conferences from taking place in communities “known for attracting vacationers,” Emanuel wrote. “For me, the test of government travel is what will be accomplished by that travel and whether the cost to the government is reasonable as opposed to other options.”

No word on how the "what happens/stays" formulation might be affected by the federal Freedom of Information Act.

-- Mark Z. Barabak

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Photo: President Obama walks with Brig. Gen. Stanley T. Kresge at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas in May. Credit: Associated Press