War on terrorism spurs House to grant presidents Secret Service protection for life

  • While a Secret Service agent holds onto his waist, former President Bill Clinton stretches over a porch rail and shakes hands with well-wishers during a campaign stop on Sunday, May 4, 2008, in Morganton, N.C. The former president was campaigning for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential hopeful. (AP Photo/The News Herald, Jennifer Frew)While a Secret Service agent holds onto his waist, former President Bill Clinton stretches over a porch rail and shakes hands with well-wishers during a campaign stop on Sunday, May 4, 2008, in Morganton, N.C. The former president was campaigning for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democratic presidential hopeful. (AP Photo/The News Herald, Jennifer Frew)
  • President George W. Bush waves as he stands next to his daughter Barbara as they pass by on his father's, former President George Bush, fishing boat Fidelity III, off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine, on Saturday morning, June 30, 2007. Former President Bush pilots his boat as a Secret Service agent and his fishing guide, Billy Bush (left), stand behind. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)President George W. Bush waves as he stands next to his daughter Barbara as they pass by on his father's, former President George Bush, fishing boat Fidelity III, off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine, on Saturday morning, June 30, 2007. Former President Bush pilots his boat as a Secret Service agent and his fishing guide, Billy Bush (left), stand behind. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
  • Former President George H.W. Bush waves as he arrives at the White House on Friday, May 19, 2006, in Washington. Mr. Bush was to speak at the commencement exercises at George Washington University on Sunday. The man on the left is an unidentified Secret Service agent. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)Former President George H.W. Bush waves as he arrives at the White House on Friday, May 19, 2006, in Washington. Mr. Bush was to speak at the commencement exercises at George Washington University on Sunday. The man on the left is an unidentified Secret Service agent. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • ** FILE ** President Clinton (left) watches as the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan tees off at the Las Vegas Country Club in Las Vegas on Monday, July 28, 1997. From left are an unidentified Secret Service agent, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Jordan, Brian Greenspun, former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee and Nevada Gov. Bob Miller. (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson)** FILE ** President Clinton (left) watches as the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan tees off at the Las Vegas Country Club in Las Vegas on Monday, July 28, 1997. From left are an unidentified Secret Service agent, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Jordan, Brian Greenspun, former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee and Nevada Gov. Bob Miller. (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson)
  • U.S. Secret Service agents stands watch as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)U.S. Secret Service agents stands watch as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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Two decades ago, with the Cold War receding and the world looking like a much less dangerous place, Congress passed a bill canceling former presidents’ Secret Service protection 10 years after they left office, beginning with George W. Bush.

But now, with the war on terrorism presenting new dangers and presidents taking more active roles around the globe, the House did an about-face Wednesday, voting to restore life-long Secret Service protection to all ex-presidents.

“The increased mobility and youth of still-living former presidents, coupled with the national security threat posed to post-9/11 leaders who were instrumental in the war on terror, necessitates protection for life, as has been the case since the 1960s,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who is sponsoring the bill.

The legislation must still clear the Senate.

It’s unclear what the cost would be because the Secret Service does not provide numbers. Nor is it clear what is driving the bill because Mr. Bush has another six years before he would lose his security detail.

Dan Emmett, a former Secret Service special agent and author of “Within Arm’s Length,” his memoir of 21 years on duty, said there is no reason why former presidents need the extra protection. He said five years should be enough.

“Protecting former presidents is phenomenally expensive and largely a courtesy rather than a necessity,” said Mr. Emmett, who was in the Secret Service from 1983 through 2004. “Although an attack on a former president could happen any day, it is highly unlikely.”

The bill on the House floor hasn’t drawn much attention, and it is coming up for debate under expedited rules that usually are used for noncontroversial measures. It has the support of the top Republican and Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

But its justification is less clear.

A Judiciary Committee staffer referred questions about the need for the law to the Secret Service, and a service spokesman declined to go into any details.

“This issue’s been worked on with several congressional committees as the 10-year limitation on protection approaches,” spokesman Ed Donovan said. “We currently protect all former presidents and we feel it’s appropriate we continue to do so.”

The Secret Service is an agency in the Homeland Security Department and either the president or the department’s secretary can sign an order granting protection on an as-needed basis, which could be used when ex-presidents travel overseas on ambassadorial missions.

Mr. Donovan declined to say why that arrangement wouldn’t work.

In addition to the sitting president and vice president and their immediate families, the Secret Service protects former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Mr. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, and all of the families, as well as Nancy Reagan. Widows of former presidents are entitled to protection, too.

The service began to protect presidents in 1901 after the assassination of President McKinley. In 1965, Congress enacted a law establishing lifetime protection of former presidents.

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