The House voted Wednesday to grant all ex-presidents lifetime Secret Service protection, arguing that in a world of terrorist threats, such a precaution has become necessary.
The measure passed by voice vote without anyone speaking against it. It still needs Senate passage but, if adopted, would undo a 1994 law that limited future presidents to only 10 years' protection.
"The world has changed dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks," said Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said pulling protection may have made sense in 1994, after the end of the Cold War, but didn't make sense in an era of the war on terror.
The Secret Service began to protect presidents in 1901, after the assassination of President McKinley, and in 1965 Congress passed a law establishing lifelong protection of ex-presidents.
The 1994 law, passed by Democrats and signed by President Bill Clinton, took effect for any president inaugurated after Mr. Clinton, meaning George W. Bush would be the first to lose his protection.
It's unclear what the bill's cost would be. The Secret Service does not disclose those kinds of numbers.
Dan Emmett, a former Secret Service agent and author of "Within Arm's Length," a memoir of his 21 years on duty, said he didn't see a reason to extend lifetime protection, and said from his standpoint, five years should be enough.
He said ex-presidents are wealthy enough that they could pay for their own security — as former President Nixon did when he gave up his Secret Service detail in 1985.
Rep. Howard Coble, a North Carolina Republican who led the fight in the 1990s to limit protection, said the 10-year mark was a good compromise then, and still stands now.
"I think we have seen that being a former president can be a pretty lucrative career, and I feel that after 10 years, if these former presidents feel the need for additional security, they should pay for it themselves," he said in a statement Tuesday.
In addition to the president and vice president and their immediate families, the Secret Service currently protects former Presidents Carter, Clinton and both Bushes and all of their families, as well as Nancy Reagan — widows of ex-presidents are entitled to protection, too.
Only one ex-president has ever been attacked. Teddy Roosevelt was shot by an anarchist in 1912 as he was campaigning for president on the progressive Bull Moose Party ticket. Iraqi intelligence agents also plotted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush with a car bomb in Kuwait in 1993, but that plan was foiled.
The House legislation also expands protection of former presidents' children until they reach 16 years of age.
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