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 JonesThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic infighting threatens 2020 unity Heavy loss by female candidate in Republican NC runoff sparks shock Greg Murphy wins GOP primary runoff for North Carolina House seat 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 GallegoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Arizona Democrat: 'To people like Trump I will never be American enough' Arizona Democrat joins call for Trump impeachment 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 Price'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently Leaked Trump transition vetting documents show numerous officials with 'red flags': Axios 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 PruittSenior Trump administration official to leave post next week For Big Pharma, the revolving door keeps spinning Acosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation 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 ZinkeSenior Trump administration official to leave post next week 2020 Democrats vow to get tough on lobbyists 'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? MORE’s use of military aircraft to get to Norway and Alaska; and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Pelosi calls for spending parity in budget agreement 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 MattisThis week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' 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 ScottHouse approves much-delayed .1B disaster aid bill Third House Republican blocks disaster aid bill Republicans turn on each other amid disaster bill delay MORE (R-Ga.) called the amendment a “political shot.”

Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves Wilson75 years after D-Day: Service over self Valerie Plame to run for Congress in New Mexico Pollster says younger lawmakers more likely to respond to State of the Union on social media 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.”