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If this is Thursday, it must be...

The current break in the action on Capitol Hill, referred to by most people as the Memorial Day recess, is officially known as a "district work period."

The reason for the latter terminology is pretty obvious, but members of Congress sometimes stretch the definition of "district."

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, is leading a high-profile mission of six House members to China. Other lawmakers are also off on far-flung, taxpayer-financed ventures, though they didn't seek advertise that fact.

More often than not, members of Congress slip out of town without notice (public disclosure of the travel is required, but not until long after the trip has ended). Their office-bound staff back home keeps churning out press releases, presumably to make it look as though the senator or congressman is hard at work in Washington, when they might be on some beach, somewhere, instead.

A rare exception to the pattern is Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, who not only invited reporters to join her trip to the Netherlands this week, but also issued press releases from the scene.

Also in Europe's low country this week is House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, who has returned to his Danish roots. The southern Maryland congressman is on an official trip to Copenhagen for talks with government officials on issues ranging from that country's commitment to Afghanistan (about 700 of the 58,000 NATO forces are Danes) to climate change (a big global conference on that subject will be held in Copenhagen this December). Just today, in fact, Sen. John Kerry said that the success of the Copenhagen conference could hinge on critical talks over the next few weeks. Kerry made that remark in China, where he's leading his own overseas mission.

Maryland's senators can be found in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the spectacular Adriatic coast. The British playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked that "those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik." Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski are there, however, on an Aspen Institute-sponsored trip to a conference about "political Islam."

Overseas travel by members of Congress usually follows predictable patterns. It tends to take place early in the congressional cycle, as far away from Election Day as possible, to help insulate the travellers from political fallout--in particular, the criticism of enemies who tend to regard all such ventures as junkets.

Frequent congressional travellers are often those with the least to fear, politically. Cardin, for example, won't face voters again until 2012. Mikulski, whose seat is up next year, has yet to draw a challenger; her office said it's been 10 years since she took a foreign trip like the one she's on now.

Hoyer, who rarely slows down, is squeezing Europe in between the Bowie Memorial Day Parade and Pax River Air Show last weekend and campaign-related travel to Ohio on behalf of Reps. Mary Jo Kilory, John Boccieri, Steve Driehaus and Betty Sutton, before Congress gets back to work next week.

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Also on an overseas jaunt: Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards. The congresswoman from Prince George's County was in Israel on a trip sponsored by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Meantime, freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland's Eastern Shore, the only member of the state's congressional delegation with a big re-election fight on his hands at the moment, is staying close to home. He scheduled a full slate of events this week across his far-flung district, including a tour of Perdue Food Inc.'s chicken raising and processing facilities in Salisbury on Friday, when temperatures are forecast to hit the low 80s.

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