The attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, again presents the question of which public officials should receive protection and how far should it pertain to family members. Most everyone agrees that it is appropriate to try to protect the president of the United States and his immediate family members — even though it costs tens of millions of dollars each year and requires several thousand people to spend at least part of their time on the protection effort.
There are 435 elected members of the House of Representatives, 100 senators and nine Supreme Court justices. How much money should the taxpayers be expected to spend to protect each of them? In addition, there are many other high-level government officials who may be at risk, such as the attorney general, secretary of state and secretary of defense.
In the old Soviet Union and other socialist states, having a bodyguard was a status symbol and often given to favored bureaucrats who had little chance of suffering bodily harm. A huge waste of resources — but easier for a socialist government to do than to provide enough income to buy a new car. Many folks in Hollywood who are in little danger still pay for such a status symbol — but it is their money.
History and common sense tell us that most members of Congress are not at high risk, but congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi receive many death threats and so additional protection is provided to them for good reason. But even average members of Congress face above-average risks. Remember the Republican baseball team that was attacked by a deranged Democrat during a practice session? Rep. Steve Scalise was shot in that attack and almost lost his life. Sen. Rand Paul was badly injured and sent to the hospital by a neighbor who did not like the senator’s views. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was targeted for murder by a man who did not like his views on abortion.
Taxpayers are probably unwilling to give every government elected or other high-profile official and their families full-time bodyguards since more than 99% of the time they would be standing around doing nothing — an obvious waste. So again, the question is, who should get extra protection? And how much?
There are members of Congress who are polarizing figures because of their rhetoric or policy positions, and thus targets for extremists or the deranged. For instance, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is a junior member of Congress from Georgia, upsets many in the establishment and others with her non-mainstream views that she has the audacity to broadcast far and wide. The result is that she has received many death threats. Should she be given additional protection? Mrs. Pelosi, like former President Donald Trump, is a very polarizing figure and many wish her harm and would act on it if were easy to do. Most people were probably surprised at how easy it was for a mentally ill man to break into the Pelosi home, even though the speaker was not there, and do harm to her husband.
Some have advocated that all high-level administration officials, including cabinet officers, have around-the-clock protection — which may make sense for the secretary of state. But the secretary of housing and urban development (HUD) is a woman named Marcia Fudge. Few know who she is or what she looks like, since she is a non-polarizing figure, and thus is probably as safe as any average person when she goes shopping in the mall. The most famous HUD secretary was Jack Kemp. Mr. Kemp had been quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, a member of Congress and a major leader for tax reform, and had run for president in the 1988 Republican primary.
Because of his outsized personality, almost everyone knew who Mr. Kemp was, yet he was in little danger. He often drove himself to work, without security, at HUD from his Maryland home, because he liked to drive. The late Mr. Kemp was a non-polarizing figure — in that he reached out and was loved by people of all races and backgrounds. There was no need to spend much on security for him and his family because he was not hated.
The point is there is no easy rule or formula for determining which elected or appointed officials need bodyguards or other security and which do not. Department of Justice officials probably ought to be empowered to make the decision, but unfortunately DOJ has become politicized under Attorney General Merrick Garland. Members of the Supreme Court are not receiving all the protection they are entitled to — with demonstrators acting out closer to their homes than the law allows — all because folks in the Biden administration do not like some of the justices. This dereliction of duty is irresponsible, illegal, and immoral.
A solution to the problem might be for Congress to establish a truly independent and bipartisan committee made up of retired members of Congress, who hopefully have the wisdom and knowledge to oversee a unit in the Department of Justice to determine what level of security is needed — on an individual basis — for all highly visible officials of the Congress, the federal courts and the administration.
• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.