Senate should extend lifelong protection for former presidents

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Despite this sad history of violence against presidents in our nation, President Clinton signed a 1994 law that limited Secret Service protection for former presidents to 10 years. Though protection can be extended based on recommendation from the Department of Homeland Security, one has to wonder if no one at the time bothered to examine the homicide rate suffered by Oval Office holders. Even if they hadn’t, surely they were aware that Clinton himself received a then-unprecedented number of death threats. And while the number of such threats made against President Obama have been somewhat exaggerated in the blogosphere, there is no evidence that the threat against present or former presidents has decreased.  So why limit protection?

Well, Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) opposed the measure, saying “I think we have seen that being a former president can be a pretty lucrative career, and I feel that after 10 years, if these former presidents feel the need for additional security, they should pay for it themselves.” Rep. Coble ignores the fact that Secret Service agents on the presidential security detail are not merely bodies that surround the target, there to absorb a bullet. They are the best personnel security force in the world. Agents of the Secret Service are highly and continuously trained, deeply committed to their country and protecting their assignees. Furthermore, they do their job armed with up-to-the minute intelligence about the latest threats. They have access to information to which no private guards would ever be privy. And that can make the difference between life and death for former presidents who, as Rep. Gowdy rightly states, are more mobile than ever.

Further, one needs only to imagine the nightmare scenario of a former president or first lady being kidnapped by terrorists to consider the impact it would have on our nation. Imagine the negotiations that would be undertaken, or the impact on our national psyche. We know all too well that terrorist organizations and state-sponsors of terrorism have not only directly targeted former presidents before but rightly consider them very high-value subjects.  In 1993, Saddam Hussein sent a team to Kuwait with the goal of killing former President George H.W. Bush with explosives. Fortunately, the plan failed.  It would surprise no one to learn that al-Qaeda or its affiliates would be very willing to kill a former president or first lady given the slightest opening.
The Senate is sometimes jokingly referred to as a group one hundred men and women who think they should be president. Perhaps, then, self-interest might push that deliberative body to waste no time to pass the house bill extending lifelong Secret Service protection to former presidents and first ladies.  A quick reading of our history makes this a very easy decision.