Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Tuesday excoriated the Secret Service on Tuesday for a string of security failures over the last few years, including its decision to praise agents for showing “tremendous restraint” against a White House fence jumper who was able to enter the White House.
Chaffetz said that message sends a mixed signal to would-be assailants that they will not be taken down quickly if they threaten the president and his family.
“Tremendous restraint is not what we’re looking for,” Chaffetz said at a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday. “Tremendous restraint is not the goal and the objective. It sends a very mixed message. The message should be overwhelming force.”
“If one person can hop that fence and run unimpeded all the way into an open door at the White House, don’t praise them for tremendous restraint. That’s not the goal. That’s not what we’re looking for.
Omar Gonzalez jumped the White House fence on September 19, and was able to enter the building through an unlocked door and roam around the White House before finally being apprehended. He was carrying a knife, and passed by a stairwell that would have let him enter President Barack Obama’s private residence.
The Obama’s were away at the time, but Chaffetz said the incident shows the agency needs to use deadly force if necessary to keep intruders away from the president.
“Don’t let somebody get close to the president,” he said. “Don’t let somebody get close to his family. Don’t let them get in the White House, ever.”
“And if they have to take action that’s lethal, I will have their back,” he added.
Both Republicans and Democrats said they were outraged at the security breach. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the incident is the latest problem at the Secret Service — in the last few years, agents allowed reality TV stars to attend a White House gathering, and were involved in a prostitution scandal in Colombia.
Issa, Chaffetz and other also criticized new reports saying the Secret Service ignored reports that someone fired several shots at the White House, despite several witnesses who observed the shooter.
“It is understandable that morale at the agency appears to be in decline, according to news reports” Issa said. “In light of the recent break-in, we have to ask whether the culture at the Secret Service and possible declining morale have an impact.”
Both Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the Secret Service depends on its reputation that it will quickly stop and possibly use lethal force to stop people from breaching White House grounds. But they warned that image has now been shattered.
“Much of what deters people from trying to pierce the protective veil of the Secret Service is the reputation, and that reputation must be one of excellence and effectiveness,” Cummings said.
In her opening statement, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was contrite and took full responsibility for the fence-jumping incident.
“It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly,” she said. “I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again.”