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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 JonesSupreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising Experts warn Georgia's new electronic voting machines vulnerable to potential intrusions, malfunctions Georgia restores 22,000 voter registrations after purge 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 GallegoHispanic Caucus endorses Castro for Foreign Affairs gavel Favorites emerge as Latino leaders press Biden to appoint 5 Hispanics to Cabinet Tony Cárdenas casts himself as man to lead DCCC through fire 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 PriceConspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Chris Christie Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet 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 PruittEPA's scientific integrity in question over science rule Major unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight 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 ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race MORE’s use of military aircraft to get to Norway and Alaska; and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Overnight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines 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 MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Biden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties 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 ScottNorth Carolina GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 Capitol physician advises lawmakers against attending dinners, receptions during COVID-19 spike The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (R-Ga.) called the amendment a “political shot.”

Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonObama said his 'initial instinct' during '09 outburst from Joe Wilson was to 'smack this guy on the head' Democrats raise alarm about new US human rights priorities Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez defeats Valerie Plame in New Mexico primary 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.”