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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 JonesGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Kavanaugh accuser Ford offers gripping testimony | Sights and sounds from Capitol | Hearing grips Washington Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote 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 GallegoArizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue ICE awarded 5M deal to defense contractor under review for holding migrant kids in vacant office: report Hispanic Dems want answers on detention of immigrant minors 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 PriceGOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Watchdog calls for investigation into Haley flights White House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: 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 PruittMcConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant EPA puts science ‘transparency’ rule on back burner Tucker Carlson says he 'can't really' dine out anymore because people keep yelling at him 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 ZinkeHUD official quits amid Interior Department watchdog controversy Overnight Energy: Outdoor retailer Patagonia makes first Senate endorsements | EPA withdraws Obama uranium milling rule | NASA chief sees 'no reason' to dismiss UN climate report Interior Department sued over withholding details on trophy permits, endangered species MORE’s use of military aircraft to get to Norway and Alaska; and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program created by Trump tax law 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 MattisUS mulls sending warships through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions Overnight Defense: US, South Korea cancel another military exercise | Dozen sailors injured in chopper crash on aircraft carrier | Navy vet charged with sending toxic letters US, South Korea cancel another military exercise 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 ScottOvernight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Lawmakers introduce resolution to back naming NATO headquarters after McCain Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers MORE (R-Ga.) called the amendment a “political shot.”

Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonTrump should stick to his guns and close failed South Carolina nuclear MOX project Trump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ Sacha Baron Cohen mulls arming toddlers with guns in inaugural episode 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.”