Recent Afghanistan forays highlight lawmaker travel risks

Unlike Moulton and Meijer, who are former members of the military who served in Iraq, Mullin is not a veteran. But to Gainer, it doesn’t matter what someone’s military background is. When a member of Congress surfaces in a conflict zone or a dangerous domestic situation, it compromises safety for everyone else. 

For a typical official trip taken by members of the House or Senate, the sergeant-at-arms would work with staff members in the Speaker’s office or in the Secretary of the Senate to reach out to the military to get a plane or find transportation. Once that is secured, officials work with agencies to determine how many people plan to attend and coordinate local governments and law enforcement to make sure they know when the plane will land and that members are safe during their trip. 

Freelance trips to dangerous areas bring back memories of other lawmakers taking their international travel plans into their own hands. Not all were without incident. 

In 1954, Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith set out on a world tour to assess the communist threat on her own and at her own expense, saying that she believed official “codels,” or congressional delegations, were managed too closely. The trip caught the attention of famed CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow, whose cameras were trained on her throughout the 23-country tour, and she served as a special correspondent. The press in an election year for her was an added bonus. 

On Nov. 18, 1978, Rep. Leo J. Ryan was shot dead along with four others as a group tried to escape the Jonestown commune built by cult leader Jim Jones. Rep. Jackie Speier, then a legislative counsel for Ryan, was shot five times and left for dead with others in her group on a remote airstrip in Guyana, South America.