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Peace in Northern Ireland, war in Ukraine — and American football

CODEL to attend Navy vs. Notre Dame game during trip to UK and Ireland

Notre Dame narrowly defeated Navy, 35-32, in their last annual game on November 12, 2022 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md.
Notre Dame narrowly defeated Navy, 35-32, in their last annual game on November 12, 2022 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. (Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Several lawmakers who are part of a congressional delegation to Ireland and the United Kingdom this weekend said they will be attending the annual Navy-Notre Dame football game on Saturday in Dublin.

College football is not the primary purpose of the CODEL, announced Wednesday by Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn. But it will be a perk for a group that includes some avowed football fans and members with some skin in the game.

“As a Marine, I will always give the Navy a hard time and will always root for them against all comers,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Massachusetts Democrat who did tours in Afghanistan and Panama in the early 2010s.

But Auchincloss may be out of luck: No. 13-ranked Notre Dame is the betting favorite on Saturday — the college football season opener — and won the previous two meetings with Navy in Dublin, in 1996 and 2012, and the last five meetings overall.

The two teams have played every year since 1927, with the exception of a planned 2020 meeting in Dublin, which was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fighting Irish have tied one and lost just 13 of their matchups with the Midshipmen.

Auchincloss is not the only former service member on the trip. Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas,  was a Navy SEAL whose right eye was destroyed by a roadside bomb during a deployment to Afghanistan. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve who also did a stint in Afghanistan. Sullivan, like Auchincloss, has stated in the past his support for the Navy squad.

Also on the trip is House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who was born in South Bend, Ind., and whose father graduated from Notre Dame. Emmer’s office did not respond when asked if he’d attend the game or if he’d support the Fighting Irish.

And Murphy, the trip’s organizer, has often weighed-in on college sports. He’s argued that collegiate athletes should be allowed to earn money, warned his hometown University of Connecticut against leaving the Big East conference and tweeted sage analysis of the UConn basketball team during their run to an NCAA championship.

In addition to Murphy, Auchincloss and Crenshaw, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., and Reps. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. confirmed they will attend the game. Lawler, through a spokesperson, said he’s excited to represent the many Irish-Americans in his district during the diplomatic functions of the trip and the game.

Sullivan, Emmer and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who’s also on the CODEL, did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to the game, the visit will include meetings with U.S. ambassador to Ireland Claire D. Cronin and Ireland’s Foreign and Defense Minister Micheál Martin, as well as business leaders and state legislators.

In London and Dublin, the delegation will discuss securing peace in Northern Ireland, the war in Ukraine, the trilateral security pact between the U.S., the UK and Australia and competition with China.

“This visit is an opportunity to reaffirm Congress’s commitment to strengthening transatlantic cooperation on trade, technology, and competition with China as well as the bipartisan interest in securing peace in Northern Ireland,” Murphy said in his announcement.

Murphy and Auchincloss paid for their own game tickets, aides said. There was no immediate word on who’s paying for the other members’ tickets, which officially sold out months ago.

On secondary market sites Thursday, lower-level seats with the best views at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium were going for as low as $275 to upwards of $1,000.

Lawmakers in both chambers are allowed to accept free tickets and refreshments at “widely attended events,” as long as they are invited by the event organizer, at least 25 people from a variety of backgrounds will be there and attendance is related to a member’s official duties.

Sporting events are typically considered “purely recreational” events and not covered by the exemption from congressional gift rules. 

But since the Navy is involved, that could fall under the category of official representational duties — supporting the Midshipmen from members’ home states and districts. Lawmakers could also be mingling with Irish government luminaries or even constituents who made the trip, including those who purchased pricey travel packages.

Lawmakers are also allowed to travel and attend overseas events on a foreign government’s dime, as long as they report it on their annual financial disclosures.

Daniela Altimari, Niels Lesniewski and Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.

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