Congress Is On The Verge Of Exempting Itself From Airport TSA Checkpoints

At the beginning of February, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced legislation that would exempt many Members of Congress, Cabinet Secretaries, and federal judges from airport security checkpoints. They would, instead, receive dedicated airport escorts and private security screening. Senator Cruz managed to attach this to the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill.

In the past, Senator Cruz has shown up late for the airport and missed his flight, without special services, declaring “don’t you know who I am?”

The Dallas Morning News reminds that this is still in the bill that the full Senate prepares to vote on, and which will go to the House.

Senator Ted Cruz is one step closer to his dream law to force law enforcement officers to give top national officials a private escort past airport security.

Here’s the relevant text of the legislation. This is what it means:

  • Federal judges, Members of Congress, and Cabin Members who have received any threat qualify. And this extends to travel with their spouse, children, and two staff members accompanying them.

  • They are entitled to escort “for the entirety of the time that the covered person…[is] at a commercial service airport.”

  • They are not required to go through normal security screening, and instead receive “the specialized screening procedures for an individual under protective escort” which are “in effect as of January, 1, 2024” meaning that the bill even says current standards for such screening can not be increased for members of Congress receiving this security escort.

  • However, an airport’s Federal Security Director may make a determination that “there is a risk to the aviation system” from exempting a given individual.

Cruz faces re-election this year. His race against Beto O’Rourke in 2018 had Republicans retain the Senate seat in Texas by a mere 3 points. Telling voters that he’s more important than they are during election season is a bad look.

Politicians need to eat their own dog food. Until they stand in long security lines, go through the shoe carnival, and have their water bottles confiscated they’re not in a position to exercise their oversight obligations of the federal Transportation Security Agency. And since airports in the U.S. are generally owned by governments, and receive federal funding, they should experience those airports the same way their constituents do.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. He is from Texas the state that has more guns caught by TSA than any other state. Yeah. The term going postal was derived from federal workers not ordinary citizens. Just because you’re a senator or congressman does not give you terrorist clearance

  2. It’s the “Wizard of Id” again, “The king believes in the Golden Rule. Those with the gold make the rules.” I just wish that members of Congress would be required to spend a few weeks living in low wage situations. Let them find affordable housing, find child care, find decent food, find good medical care, find adequate transportation, find workable schools for their kids, and feel safe from random shootings under these conditions and then they could talk about wasting billions on useless programs, or cutting benefits to “the poor”.

  3. What’s with the VA healthcare bashing? I’m a Vietnam combat veteran and here on Long Island VA healthcare is excellent.

  4. even the article you cite says that cabinet members and federal judges would also be exempt.
    Federal judges can’t exempt themselves from law but you can bet they will take advantage of this just like legislators.

    And the real question is what is different in private screening. Citizens can also ask for private screening esp. if there are disabilities or other issues.

    Waiting in lines is a big deal but crew members also get to skip various airport lines – and there are way more of them.

    I suspect this is more of a molehill than a mountain

  5. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

    George Orwell in Animal Farm

  6. @drrichard, Back in 1981, the mayor of Chicago at the time (Jane Byrne) decided to move into the Cabrini Green public housing project… Yeah, that lasted all of 3 weeks. On her first night they had to weld shut the back entrance to her apartment to better secure it as a dozen gang members were arrested organizing a shoot out to welcome her to the neighborhood. (And after she left, a gang took over her well-fortified apartment which the police left as was thus giving a great spot for a gang HQ)

  7. @Tim Dunn – “even the article you cite says that cabinet members and federal judges would also be exempt.”

    Even the article I *write* says this as well.

    “Waiting in lines is a big deal but crew members also get to skip various airport lines – and there are way more of them.”

    1. Crewmembers go through security a lot more than we do
    2. Delaying crewmembers causes flights to delay, which inconveniences… passengers. We literally don’t want them standing in long lines because instead of just delaying themselves it delays hundreds of people, on the flight they’re working, and on the next flights that aircraft would operate and the next flights that crew might be on too.

    As far as downsides to this, (1) it separates politicians from the people they govern, (2) they don’t feel the same pain points as constituents and they’re the ones who are overseeing and setting policy which may contribute to suboptimal policy.

  8. Imagine the Insurrectionists in office that can now smuggle into DC weapons on flights. The Ballston U-Storage will be fully booked until Trump launches another coup attempt.

  9. When you run for a public office your days of privacy are over. The electorate needs to see exactly who you are. No hiding.

  10. People like Ted Cruz are the exact reason the Republicans are going to get smacked down in November. The party needs to be taken down and hopefully fiscal conservatives, and not these extreme right wing nut jobs. Will take the party back over. my first national election I was stationed overseas and voted for Ragan after seeing what Carter did to our military. I voted Republican or blue dog Democrat for my entire life up until the 2020 election. No more. And somebody check and make sure that’s really Tim Dunn. The post didn’t reference DL‘s profitability or their A350 order.

  11. And here we go once again. RULES FOR THEE, BUT NOT FOR ME! I do not care who you are, what crazy Political Party you belong to, what your job is, but I will say this….PUT YOUR GROWN UP PANTS ON AND GO THROUGH SECURITY LIKE THE REST OF US! Enough with these entitled Politicians and their tantrums.
    @Tim Dunn, my career was in the Airline Industry and we never got to skip any lines or scrutiny. We have a dedicated line at most Airports but no free pass.

  12. Gary,
    I totally agree w/ the “rules for thee but not for me” mindset but I wouldn’t be surprised if some Congress critters go through security MORE than some crewmembers.

    Security delays all of us. How dare you suggest that a flight of 150 people is more important than the movement (or not) of the US government?

    and I believe there are about 900 federal judges – far more than Congress = but less than crew members.

  13. Let’s see — haven’t multiple members of Congress been stopped at TSA for handguns and tasers in the past few years? Like the fallen from grace Madison Cawthorne, stopped multiple times for loaded weapons.

    Congress already has enough perks and privileges they deny us citizens, like pensions, world class healthcare, etc. The grift and handouts to those who are elected to SERVE US should stop.

  14. I totally disagree w/ the “rules for thee but not for me” entitlement mentality of government officials advancing this preferential treatment for themselves and those for and from whom they want preferential treatment when traveling as a passenger on our common carrier airlines.

    It’s a banana republic where a lot of the governing class and favorites of the governing class get special treatment at airports while members of the general public foot the bill for the governing classes’ trips while we all pay the price with the ”security” nonsense at the airports.

  15. @Tim Dunn – ” I wouldn’t be surprised if some Congress critters go through security MORE than some crewmembers.”

    There are crew that do not fly very much. They’re outliers. This is certainly not the case in the limit.

    “How dare you suggest that a flight of 150 people is more important than the movement (or not) of the US government?”

    Senator Ted Cruz needs to go to Cancun, sure.

    1/ those members of the U.S. government who genuinely need to travel for critical government functions aren’t the ones covered by this for the most part.
    2/ they’ve been traveling perfectly effectively since the advent of TSA. This doesn’t make them better able to travel on government business.

    There are plenty of people getting threats, who are recognizable figures, but who are not judges or politicians – why extend this only to the ruling classes? And what makes you think airports are a unique threat? Where are the parade of horrible incidents at airports we’re trying to avoid here?

    This is a silly line of argument.

  16. “Specialized screening” for some US governmental personnel to get airside at airports may be little or nothing more than a credential/identification check and sometimes some logging or notice requirement to get to skip a screening of the body and belongings of the governmentally-favored persons entitled to such “specialized screening”.

  17. Absolutely ridiculous. Legislators create an overreaching security state and then want to exempt themselves from what they’ve foisted upon their electorate.

    I have a better idea: No special treatment via this bill AND make it so legislators are per se ineligible for precheck and global entry. They should have to endure what they’ve created and if they don’t like it, change it for everyone and not just themselves.

  18. Perhaps this is just an insurance move for when they cut TSA funding in the next round of budget shutdowns. This will ensure they are not impacted in any way and can ignore any notion that the airport security experience needs to be overhauled

  19. So why are you singling out Cruz? Some years back AL Gore had a big scene with Milwaukee TSA. They threatened to have him arrested after a “Don’t you know who I am” moment. Now he flies private jets to talk environtalism.

  20. Gary,
    the silly line of argument is that “it has worked fine for anybody before” so why exclude a single class now.
    The key issue is that the lawmakers get another privilege – and in a society like in the US, no one likes those that are special.

    There are more federal judges than US lawmakers. Fact.

    You have a beef w/ Cruz. I don’t care for him but I can see the real issues while you seem fixated on him.

    and thousands of international crew members, who could fly a couple trips per month, go through US security less than lawmakers do who often commute on a weekly basis.

  21. Id love to know how this truly benefits anyone but the ones who get the perk. You chose to be a civil servant, living as a politican, than you must abide by the same rules we do.

    enough with the special treatment. You want TSA to be better, than go make it better.


  22. Gold-plated health and retirement benefits are not enough. Their exalted status means they shouldn’t be subjected to the same travel rigors that the rest of us endure. What this doesn’t take into account is some of the gun-toting unhinged representatives of questionable judgement. That would include some of those who think that January 6 was just a group of law abiding citizens hoping to take a tour of the Capitol.

  23. This has long been the case for any government officials traveling with a Secret Service or Diplomatic Security detail. I worked at the U.S. Mission to the UN in 2001 and Diplomatic Security would escort the U.S. Ambassador to the UN into the airport terminal through the exit door. Privileges of the gold badge!

  24. @Tim Dunn – “You have a beef w/ Cruz. I don’t care for him but I can see the real issues while you seem fixated on him.”

    On the contrary. I do not have a beef with Cruz. I sometimes disagree with him. Here I think he’s pursuing something that’s bad for the country. Not personal.

  25. As if this wasn’t bad enough, including staff flunkies plus spouses and kids is simply an outrage!!! I wonder how many TSA agents will be “justified” just in case one of these clowns shows up and requirese a “personal escort” through the check point maze? But it’s the way Congress rolls with their unending “perks'” that exempts them from experiencing what their constituents must endure.

  26. The real issue that is being ignored is the waste of money specifically staffing air marshals at airports for this. Since the escort must be a law enforcement, TSA must either either modify their agreement with local law enforcement to add this to their checkpoint duties or have a FAM at the checkpoint for this duty. How many man hours will be spent escorting? Such a colossal waste of tax dollars.

  27. Gary… there’s a better solution, for politicians and all passengers. Just look at Airports where Delta’s ‘Digital ID’ has been set-up, with or without using TSA Pre. It’s way beyond biometrics Clear uses and far more reliable. NBC Today’s Al Roker was thrilled to breeze through security screening at LaQuardia a couple weeks ago. I encountered the trial of it at ATL and JFK T4 and just told my readers (@stockseer on ‘X’) about how this came to be. It’s from Pangiam, a private company that acquired (both have the same backers) and TSA just started using it with Delta at LAX too. I would like you to possibly investigate more, not just because of speculating in BBAI stock, but as it would mitigate the hassles of both Security Screening ‘and’ the Boarding process, better than the basic scanners at gates most airlines use now. (And privacy is protected too.) Anyway I’m older now and sort of excited as my memories of (international) flights that didn’t have Fast Track or Global Entry (on the other end); or absurd clearance processes such as Delta inbound to ATL from International (tired from financial TV-related trips across the Pond, then they squeezed everyone into one line for domestic connections).. this needs fixing and I think BigBear’s solution can do that (it’s new President was head of Customs & Border Protection and interim Director of Homeland Security later); so they’ve got the clout and technology. I will be glad to collaborate if you’d like to explore this more.

  28. Unfortunately, another self-entitled ELITE class enacting laws that only benefit them. Typical of both elected parties and all government bureaucrats who know better than all of us the taxpayers.

    Who’s John Galt……………..

  29. giving someone else a privilege is not bad for the country, Gary.
    It is just a perk that you and I won’t have and perhaps neither should anyone.

  30. Tim Dunn, while being an expert on all things Delta, also appears to be well accomplished in the art of the straw man argument.

  31. There are plenty of non-politicians who fly more often than the typical Representatives and Senators in the US Congress and are less of a threat to the country than the January 6th Insurrection supporters (such as Josh Hawley and Matt Gaetz).

  32. Dedicated security? Will the airports have to build new entrances and security checkpoints with on call personnel? How much will this add to TSA budgets, so Ted can fly to Mexico during a lockdown without getting caught? I only hope the few airports, which still use private security, say “no”, we are not bearing this expense. Just another Congressional boondoggle, which insulates them from the inconveniences and indignities the “common” people must endure.

  33. This is perfectly normal in Latin American banana republic dictatorships. And given that the United States has become no better than those, I’m not surprised to see politicians crowning themselves kings and queens accordingly.

  34. Cruz needs to be able to be able to slither off to Cancun without the prying eyes of serfs like you or me.

  35. Picture with Ted Cruz is disturbing! Who knew, you’re a little fat Trump lover. Senate, congress and judges should be able to bypass security? Big mistake! Who’s next?

  36. Schip,

    He’s not a fan of Trump. He’s cut more from the cloth of Republicans of the Club of Growth clan — the ones the MAGA types have flagged as being RINOs nowadays but that I categorize as traditional Republicans being made extinct — sort of ironically — by the Gingrich-McConnell-Trump culture war politics.

  37. @GUWonder – I think you make a mistake in calling ‘culture war politics’ a phenomenon *of trump* and others, as opposed to his being somewhat the result of it. Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” line about Trump supporters is a great example. Politics has become more of a status game than a policy one, and Trump is a golem conjured for those that had been deemed low status.

    Aaron Sorkin figured it out in 2000 (Season 2, Episode 4 of The West Wing):

  38. Sorkin was late to the game. Gingrich and Rush had already gone down this golem-making road even before their charge to impeach Clinton. Gingrich from within the Beltway, and Rush from beyond, they were already on the culture war path well before Monica Lewinsky caught Clinton’s eye. And it wasn’t because Clinton was already a well-known lecher about town and from before. People have increasingly migrated to voting based on culture war politics instead of economic self-interest, as that was the identity politics which golem-making Republicans thought could prop up their power in DC and across the country. In office, the Clintons were pretty damn moderate by political standards, and yet they were primary targets of the culture war war leaders who thought it would prop up the Republican Party. Given who still supports T-rump, perhaps HRC’s use of “deplorables” was politically accurate even when taking the term as being non-PC.

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