Dems push to beef up airport security after Brussels

Dems push to beef up airport security after Brussels
© Getty Images

Senate Democrats are pressing for a package of amendments to the long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration that would beef up airport perimeter security following the deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels.

A flood of amendments is expected to be filed to the must-pass measure that would extend legal authority for FAA programs through fiscal 2017, which the Senate began work on this week. The agency’s current legal authority expires on July 15.


“I hope we can have an efficient amendment process, where members bring their best ideas to the floor,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE (R-Ky.) said on the floor Tuesday.

After a series of coordinated terrorist attacks near the check-in counter at a Brussels airport and a subway station last month, a group of Senate Democrats is pushing for language in the FAA bill that would bolster airport and transit security around so-called “soft targets,” or places that are outside security screening, such as check-in desks and baggage claim areas.

A proposal unveiled Tuesday would double the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams to a total of 60 nationwide and add their operations to soft target areas, authorize funding for active shooter training for law enforcement and specify that certain Homeland Security Department grants can be used to strengthen perimeter security in airports and transit areas.

“Dogs, active shooters, perimeter – we want to strengthen all three,” said Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (D-N.Y.) at a press conference. “The FAA bill is a perfect opportunity for both sides to work together to toughen up security.”

The plan is being backed by Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee ranking member Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonMedia and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 MORE (D-Fla.), Aviation Subcommittee ranking member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' MORE (D-Wash.), Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharMSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot The two most important mental health reforms the Trump administration should consider Sanders searches for answers amid Warren steamroller MORE (D-Minn.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures O'Rourke: Many Democrats 'complicit' in gun problem MORE (D-W.V.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate panel advances Trump's nominees to lead Air Force, Army Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall MORE (D-N.M.) and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

“We don’t want this to be any kind of… dueling,” Schumer added “We want to work with (Republicans) together.”

A Republican Senate aide indicated that the Commerce panel remains open to ideas for improving security, but pointed out that it has already approved steps to strengthen airport security and the vetting of airport workers.

One of those measures will be offered as an amendment to the FAA bill and appears likely to gain traction.

The bipartisan legislation, S. 2361, was crafted in response to a series of high-profile security lapses by Nelson and Commerce Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' MORE (R-S.D.) and was was approved by the panel in December.

It would increase random inspections of airport workers at secure area access points, require the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a review of the insider threat posed by airport employees and enhance employee vetting and eligibility requirements.

The bill also would expand the use of so-called red teams, which conduct covert operations to try to sneak materials through security.

“We intend to put that onto the FAA bill,” Nelson said Tuesday.

Another likely amendment to the FAA measure is a House-passed bill, H.R. 2843, that would spur enrollment in TSA’s PreCheck program.

The agency is expecting long lines at airports this summer because TSA cut its screening staff over the past couple of years anticipating that the PreCheck program would speed up the process, but not enough passengers enrolled.

There may be lingering concern that more security measures on the FAA bill could create even longer wait times.  But lawmakers emphasized that increasing the number of federal agents with bomb-sniffing dogs could also help reduce wait times, since it helps quickly identify passengers who are eligible for the pre-check lines.

“We want to reverse the trend of reducing the number of (transportation security officers) to begin to build back that work force,” Johnson added. “Wait times is something that I am acutely aware of, and I believe we are addressing it.”