WASHINGTON ― With President Donald Trump and the GOP prolonging the partial government shutdown, a Republican lawmaker had an uncomfortable run-in Tuesday when a fellow airplane passenger found him flying first class from Chicago to Washington, D.C., according to a video of the encounter shared with HuffPost.
“Congressman, do you think it’s appropriate to fly first class while 57 TSA agents aren’t being paid?” the person says to Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), in an apparent reference to the Transportation Security Administration’s 57,000 employees, who are being required to work without pay.
A tipster who asked to remain anonymous shared the video with HuffPost, which hasn’t been able to identify the person who approached Davis.
Davis remained silent, prompting the person to say, “Taking that as a yes.”
“Taxpayers paid for this flight? Fair enough,” he added.
Members of Congress can have the government pay for regular flights to and from their home jurisdictions, as maintaining constituency contact is part of their job. Unlike the paychecks of TSA workers, as well as those of hundreds of thousands of other federal government workers affected by the shutdown, those paid flights do not go away during a government shutdown.
Davis did not use his taxpayer-provided budget to purchase a first-class ticket and has never done so, his spokeswoman Ashley Phelps told HuffPost in an email.
His office bought a regular coach ticket, but he was upgraded automatically because of his frequent flyer status, she added. “There was no additional cost to taxpayers.”
Accepting the upgrade is not a violation of anti-corruption rules because it’s something available to any person who accrues a certain number of miles and wasn’t offered exclusively to Davis because of his position as an elected representative, an ethics officer in the House, who asked to speak on background since the episode is not under any official investigation, told HuffPost.
All the same, for someone with power over people’s paychecks to enjoy a luxe experience amid mass economic disruption makes for a jarring sight.
A photograph of Davis in the first class section of the plane made it into Politico’s Playbook PM newsletter on Tuesday.
Most of the GOP has stood with President Donald Trump during the shutdown, arguing that he’s right to reject deals to reopen the government until he gets the funding he wants for his promised wall on the border with Mexico.
Davis has frequently supported the party on the issue, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and praised Trump’s approach. But the congressman recently sided with Democrats on bills to reopen some agencies ― a nod, perhaps, to his political vulnerability, given his tight re-election in the 2018 midterms.
This story has been updated with comment from an ethics officer in the House.