Cruz proposal for lawmakers facing threats to get special airport security escorts is blocked

Ted Cruz proposal to give lawmakers, judges facing threats special airport security escorts is blocked

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Greg Nash

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) addresses reporters during a press conference on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 to discuss the upcoming impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

A proposal to allow lawmakers and judges facing credible threats to get special security escorts at airports was kept out of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization because of an objection from Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The provision, backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), would have provided security escorts and special screenings for members of Congress, judges and Cabinet members who face what federal law enforcement experts determine to be real threats. The covered individuals would not decide their own eligibility.

It would have given lawmakers and judges facing threats the same treatment as senior administration officials including deputy secretaries, congressional leaders, and big-city mayors who go through special security screenings.

Regardless of whether they have received threats, rank-and-file lawmakers now go through regular TSA screenings, even if they are more prominent than some of the administration officials currently exempt.

And proponents say it would have minimized the burden on federal law enforcement agencies by not requiring them — but instead the official — to notify the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the covered officials’ travel plans.

A staffer familiar with the negotiations said Thompson blocked the language from being added to the FAA reauthorization, after TSA lobbied against it. The source said congressional leaders and administration officials also opposed expanding the pool of federal officials eligible for special escorts.

The source alleged that TSA routinely exaggerated the scope of the proposed change and actively lobbied against it, claiming it would apply to every member of Congress.

A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department declined to comment on TSA’s communications to Congress about the bill.

Thompson’s staff did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Cruz’s proposal was added to the FAA reauthorization bill in February, but in March Congress had to pass a clean extension of the FAA’s authority to give lawmakers more time to hammer out a long-term bill. That extension expires on May 10.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) objected to Cruz’s proposal at the time, saying it could set a “very dangerous precedent to exempt a class of people from security processes that are essential for our national security.”

And in February, Kevin Murphy, executive director of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network, told Politico that the proposal would be “a burden to airport police agencies” and divert police from “crime suppression and security functions at airports, which is our fundamental duty.”

Lawmakers who crafted the proposal did so in a way to limit special security screenings to what the Capitol Police said would only affect a small group of senators and House members facing serious threats.

“Right now, there are a lot of faceless lieutenant governors and nameless mayors who are getting this specialized screening,” said the staffer familiar with the behind-the-scenes negotiation over the bill.

“It should be limited to those facing a serious threat as we sought to do here. The powers that be disagreed,” the source said.

The rejected language would have given TSA the flexibility to revoke a person’s eligibility for special screenings if they or someone in their party is discovered with a prohibited item. 

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This post was originally published on The Hill

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