Republicans lobby Pelosi to protect vigilant ‘John Does’
Key Republicans are lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to protect legislation that prohibits airline passengers from being sued if they report suspicious behavior that foreshadows a terrorist attack.
Republican leaders used a procedural motion to insert that provision into a transportation-safety bill last month, but House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, has threatened to bar from becoming law all language entered into bills under such “motions to recommit.”
“We cannot afford to wait any longer to protect individuals who seek to do the right thing by speaking up to prevent a terrorist attack,” more than a dozen Republicans wrote to Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, on May 2 in a letter obtained by The Washington Times.
The legislation responds to a lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams after they were removed from a Nov. 20 U.S. Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix for suspicious behavior. The lawsuit was filed on March 12 and also named as defendants any yet-unknown “John Doe” passengers who reported the imams’ behavior.
“This represents a startling precedent, one that could freeze the very behavior law enforcement has encouraged,” the letter said.
The amendment — sponsored by Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee — provides civil-liability protection to individuals who act in good faith and report suspicious activity that could predicate a terrorist attack or other threat to the traveling public.
“In light of the overwhelming support from the American public and House members, and despite opposition from a majority of House Democrats, we seek your commitment to retain the King Amendment in rail and mass-transit security legislation adopted in any conference report for H.R. 1 and S. 4,” said the letter to Mrs. Pelosi.
“Your commitment to recognize the vote of more than 300 members is particularly important in light of Majority Leader Hoyer’s comments that Republican additions to bills can be removed easily in conference committee,” the letter said. The effort passed on a vote of 304121, with 105 Democrats siding with all 199 Republicans who voted.
The letter was signed by Mr. King, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, Steve Pearce of New Mexico, Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, Adam H. Putnam of Florida, Eric Cantor of Virginia, Mark Souder of Indiana, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Michael Mc- Caul of Texas, Bill Shuster and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Dan Lungren of California and Dave Reichert of Washington.
“Open lines of communication are critical to both passenger security and our collective national security, and attempts to stifle such speech don’t serve the interests of the American people,” Mr. Boehner said. “We would certainly hope that Democratic conferees take this very seriously [. . . ] and let sound policy — not partisan politics — be the arbiter of what ends up in this conference report.”
Mr. Hoyer’s spokeswoman, Stacey Bernards, said her boss wouldn’t automatically strip all such provisions but wants removing them in conference committee to be “an option.”
“It’s not ‘would be,’ it’s ‘could be’ [removed] when it goes through the conference process,” Miss Bernards said. “Some of the things [Republi- cans] are doing is a restatement of current law, and some things are just about political point-scoring that does not have any real substance to them.
“That’s not something the Republicans should take issue with. When they were in the majority, they changed bills in conference on a regular basis,” Miss Bernards said. “Their concerns about conference committee are a new conversion.”
The Republicans’ letter cites numerous articles and editorials in The Washington Times and other publications that have “come out in support of the King amendment in reversing the potentially chilling effect this litigation could have.”
“Since the tragic attacks on September 11, federal, state and local agencies have called upon the public to remain vigilant in their daily lives — promoting a ‘see something, say something’ culture,” the letter said.