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 McConnellPelosi: Congress will receive election security briefing in July Adam Scott calls on McConnell to take down 'Parks & Rec' gif Trump says he spoke to Pelosi, McConnell on border package 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 SchumerTrump goes after Democrats over photo of drowned migrants Schumer displays photo of drowned migrants on Senate floor in appeal to Trump McConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems 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 NelsonDemocrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020 Poll: Six Democrats lead Trump in Florida match-ups How Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA MORE (D-Fla.), Aviation Subcommittee ranking member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote Maine shakes up debate with tough internet privacy law MORE (D-Wash.), Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPelosi: Congress will receive election security briefing in July 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate MORE (D-Minn.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinManchin on 'Medicare for All': 'We can't even pay for Medicare for some' Overnight Energy: New EPA rule could expand officials weighing in on FOIA requests | Trump plan to strip conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback | Agriculture chief downplays climate concerns Trump plan to strip public land conservation fund gets bipartisan pushback MORE (D-W.V.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' 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 ThuneSenate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House Senate GOP to defeat proposal requiring approval for Iran attack Senate GOP aims to jam House Democrats on border fight 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.”