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“Maybe I look like a terrorist,” he quipped.

Mr. Leahy said when he’s patted down sometimes other passengers going through screening will take out their cell cameras to photograph the spectacle of a senator being screened, and TSA employees will tell them photos are against the law.

“There is no such law,” Mr. Leahy said.

Ms. Napolitano said passengers should have a choice and promised to work to improve screening, but also said she is proud of the safety record her department has amassed.

“I also think that we have the safest aviation system in the world, and there’s a reason for that,” she said.