The two recent failures of the Secret Service, one leading to an intruder getting into the White House and the other to an armed man with a criminal record being allowed to ride in an elevator with President Obama, are an embarrassment to the Secret Service. These events are also bad developments for an already embattled administration less than five weeks before a the midterm election.
The ability of somebody to evade any security and penetrate the White House is troubling under any circumstances, but will likely stick in Americans’ minds more given the uptick in concern about terrorism in recent weeks. How, many might ask, can we trust an administration to keep us safe if it can barely keep the President himself safe? This may or may not be a fair question, but it is an unavoidable one. For any citizen who has had to stand in an interminable line to go through security, show a driver’s license to get into an office building or open a backpack before going into a stadium or arena, these security failures are not just appalling but also inexplicable.
This cannot be good for the Obama administration. First, from a media standpoint, the detailed, well-sourced reporting on these stories by the Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig smells like an agency very frustrated with its leadership and staging a rebellion through the news media.
Like all administrations, this one has faced its share of scandals. Most of these, like the IRS losing emails or Benghazi embassy killings, have been deeply partisan with Republicans accusing Mr. Obama, or his appointees, of targeting conservatives or covering up what happened. Democrats have responded to this in kind by accusing Republicans of playing politics and misrepresenting facts.
This Secret Service failure is different. It is a demonstration of incompetence that cannot be explained away as partisan bickering because the core issue is the President’s ability to keep himself safe. The President is responsible for the Secret Service, albeit indirectly, so its failure is his responsibility. Therefore, congressional investigations could be very potent here for the basic reason that it will be very difficult to characterize them as partisan.
Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service said all the right things at a congressional hearing yesterday. “This is unacceptable … I take full responsibility … It will never happen again…We all are outraged…how this incident came to pass…It is obvious that mistakes were made.” These statements, however, do not answer the more fundamental question of why this woman still has a job. If the Obama administration had acted quickly, by firing Ms. Pierson and a few others, they might have been able to get in front of this issue, but it is probably too late for that.