Dems target Trump administration's use of military planes in defense bill debate

Dems target Trump administration's use of military planes in defense bill debate
© Greg Nash

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted down a proposal that would have required the Pentagon to report on the cost of Trump administration officials using military aircraft for travel.

The amendment was voted down 30-31 during the panel’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Two Republicans, Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.) and Steve Knight (Calif.), supported the measure, while another Republican, Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesOvernight Defense: Trump, Kim poised for historic summit | Trump blasts 'haters and losers' hours before meeting | Defense bill to include ZTE penalties | Lawmakers sound alarm over 'catastrophic' Yemen offensive Lawmakers circulate 'urgent call' for Mattis to prevent 'catastrophic' Yemen offensive GOP staves off immigration revolt — for now MORE (N.C.), did not vote.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) offered the amendment, citing several times that Trump administration officials have used military aircraft for travel.

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“Some are indeed rightfully required to travel exclusively by [military aircraft] for national security purposes. But for everyone else there’s rules,” Halleran said. “That’s why I and many other Americans have been outraged by report after report surfacing that senior administration officials are abusing ethics rules and improperly using military aircraft for travel.”

Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general Dem pushes for answers on cancelation of US-South Korean 'war games' Overnight Defense: Takeaways from Trump-Kim summit | Confusion over pledge to halt war games | Lawmakers want vote on any deal | Effort to kill Trump tariffs blocked MORE (D-Ariz.) added that amendment would shed light on the Trump administration’s “outrageous corruption" in the use of military planes.

Democrats cited several instances where Trump administration officials have used military aircraft, such as former Health and Human Services Secretary’s Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PricePress: Drain the swamp – of Scott Pruitt States must hold Trump to his word on working with them to solve ObamaCare Rick Perry's travel cost Energy Department ,560 during first 7 months in office: report MORE use of military jets to go to Europe and Asia allegedly costing more than $500,000; Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittPress: Drain the swamp – of Scott Pruitt Overnight Energy: Supreme Court to rehear Alaska moose hunter case | Greens to sue Trump's Chicago hotel | EPA stops having press aide review grants Supreme court to rehear Alaska moose hunter, hovercraft case MORE’s use of a military jet to get from Ohio to New York to make a flight to Rome reportedly costing $36,000; Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkePress: Drain the swamp – of Scott Pruitt Zinke blatantly disregards Trump’s opposition to ‘horror show’ elephant trophy hunting Overnight Energy: Spending bill targets Pruitt | Ryan not paying 'close attention' to Pruitt controversies | Yellowstone park chief learned of dismissal through press release MORE’s use of military aircraft to get to Norway and Alaska; and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinSpotlight falls on Russian threat to undersea cables The Hill's Morning Report — 'Sobering' IG report damages FBI Trump poised to slap tariffs on billion in Chinese imports MORE’s reported $1 million bill for military aircraft use.

“In all these cases, this type of travel was pre-approved, as required by the White House, which raises the question: to what extent was DoD being asked to support unnecessary and lavish travel for high-ranking officials,” O’Halleran said.

O’Halleran’s amendment would have required the Pentagon to report to Congress every 90 days on the department’s direct and indirect costs of travel by senior executive officials military aircraft.

Travel requiring the use of a military aircraft, such as Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisHillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review Pentagon: Planning for August 'war game' with South Korea suspended Dem: Trump 'Space Force' would 'rip the Air Force apart' MORE’s, would have been exempt from the report.

Such information already has to be reported to the General Services Administration, but is only available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests, O’Halleran said.

He argued the arrangement puts an undue burden on the Pentagon by requiring them to respond to those requests.

But Republicans argued O’Halleran’s amendment would have put a new burden on the Pentagon by requiring it to give Congress reports every 90 days.

Rep. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Tensions mount for House Republicans Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Dems target Trump administration's use of military planes in defense bill debate MORE (R-Ga.) called the amendment a “political shot.”

Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonGOP braces for intraparty fight on immigration Dems target Trump administration's use of military planes in defense bill debate Trump's effort to secure the border is making America safe again MORE (R-S.C.) also noted the Pentagon opposed the amendment for its open-ended commitment to deliver reports.

“Sadly, this does nothing to address the underlying issue of perceived excessive travel,” Wilson said. “It requires burdensome reporting on several thousand appointees across the federal government and will be difficult to compile.”