|Jason "Overwhelming Force" Chaffetz Action Figure|
I was going to write up my reaction to yesterday's Oversight Committee hearing on the White House security breach, but then Salon wrote it for me:
The competition for who could make the grander spectacle of themselves was stiff. Rep. John Mica held up an ADT sign and suggested that the Secret Service buy some “inexpensive vegetation” to bolster White House security. Rep. Trey Gowdy cranked his volume knob all the way to eleven and then broke it off. But the winner has to be committee-chair-in-waiting Jason Chaffetz, who demanded to know why, when it comes to fence jumpers, the Secret Service doesn’t use “overwhelming force.”
Exactly so. If you didn't see it live, you can watch the hearing here, on C-Span.
Representative Mica's helpful suggestion to Secret Service Director Pierson was that she reinforce White House security with Spanish Bayonet, a plant that grows in the desert and on sand dunes and which is used as a landscape accent in his home state of Florida. Okay, yeah, thanks.
Representative Gowdy is still the loudest man in Congress. Still annoying, but that's nothing new.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, however, might have broken new ground with his histrionics about wanting "overwhelming force" exerted against any and all White House intruders (no matter how small?). I think he even teared up a little when he said, more than once, that if any Secret Service agent used lethal force "I will have his back." I don't know what he means by that, but he seemed to think it was a muy macho thing to say.
The only grown-up at the hearing was former Secret Service Director Basham, whose opening statement cautioned that, had this latest fence-jumper been shot, the Committee might very well have been grilling Pierson over why her troops killed a mentally disabled veteran who was displaying no obvious weapon. Of course, had that happened, the agent who fired would be reassured to know that Jason Chaffetz will have his back - what does that mean? - while he goes through the criminal, civil, administrative, and personal consequences of using deadly force.
After all the bloodthirsty shouting at that hearing, it seems awfully mild and mundane to go back to the business of the White House's weak perimeter fence. But, there was this interesting article in the WaPo a few days ago in which a National Park Service spokeswoman said that the Secret Service has never given NPS any security standards or criteria for the fence, or even shown any interest in what NPS does with it:
The fence itself is 7 feet 6 inches tall. It is made of evenly spaced iron bars, mounted in a Virginia sandstone base. At the top of the bars — the last physical obstacle between the public sidewalk and the knob on the White House door — are little spear points, called finials.
“We haven’t done any other work since 1965,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which owns the fence (the White House is technically located in a national park).
And Anzelmo-Sarles said the Park Service couldn’t remember anyone — the Secret Service, the White House, anyone — asking for the fence to be changed. In fact, the Park Service is in the middle of a project that will repaint the old fence and remove the rust, without changing anything else.
“There’s no sort of tension or anything like that in recent memory” over the design of the fence, she said.
That article was published September 23. I hope there has been some tension between NPS and the Secret Service since then.